I came across this letter recently. It is a wise letter, especially in the light of recent discussion here.
Kettering, Jan. I7, 1792.
My Dear Friend,
In many of the workings of your mind, there is some similarity with those of my own, about twenty years ago. You seem to be fluctuating upon the surges of doubt and suspense. I did the same, for some time. I think that one cause of this, in me, was, my hopes and fears rose or fell, according as texts of Scripture occurred to my mind. For example: If such a passage as Isa. xli. 10, ('Fear not, for I am with thee, be not dismayed, for I am thy God,' &c.) was impressed on my mind, I was all joy and transport, but if such a passage as Psa. 50: 16, ('What hast thou to do, to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant into thy mouth?') was suggested, I was all dejection, and, perhaps, durst not go upon my knees to pray. I used to think, that when any passage of Scripture was impressed with weight upon my mind, it was no other than the voice of God, speaking to me by those words, so that, though the passage, as it stood in the Bible, might be addressed to some other person or case, yet when it was impressed on my heart, I was led to consider it as an address from God to me. Yea, in this manner I used to imagine that God revealed future events to me. If I were praying for the conversion of any person in particular, and such a passage as this were impressed on my mind at the time—'In her month they shall find her,'—(Jer. ii. 24.) I concluded, that God would, sometime, convert that person: or, if such a passage as this—'Pray not thou for this people,' etc. (Jer. vii. 16.) I should have concluded that they would not have been converted, and so have left oft" praying for them.
After a while, I began to suspect, whether this way of taking comfort, or of casting it away, or of judging of future events, and regulating my conduct accordingly, were either of them just or solid. And, in a little time, I perceived, that I had no reason given me in Scripture, to expect the knowledge of my own state, or of the state of others, or of any future events, by such means. I knew that the prophets and apostles had extraordinary revelations made to them, being divinely inspired to write the Holy Scriptures t but, vision and prophecy being now sealed up, (Dan. Ix. 24.) and a woe being denounced upon the man that should add or diminish, (Rev. xxii. 18.) I concluded that we ought not to look for any new revelation of the mind of God, but to rest satisfied with what has been revealed already, in his word.
I do not, however, reject all impressions of Scripture passages; provided it be nothing but Scripture truth that is thereby opened to the mind, and impressed on the heart Some of the best times of my life have been through the means of a passage of Scripture. I remember, about twenty-two years ago, walking alone, in an agony of despair, my guilt appeared too great to he forgiven, and my propensities too strong to be overcome. I felt as if there were no hope for me, and that I must even go on and perish for ever! Here I paused "What! (thought I,) give up all hope, and plunge myself into the gulf of destruction!—How can I bear the thought?" My heart was ready to burst with anguish. 1 then thought of Job's resolution— 'Though he slay me, yet will 1 trust in him.' 'And why (thought I,) may I not venture on Christ as a lost sinner, as well as Job did upon his God?' I wept I prayed I rolled my guilty and lost soul upon the Lord Jesus. Hope kindled in my breast. The tears of repentance flowed plenteously. My soul cleaved to Christ, as the helper of the helpless, and seemed united to him as by an indissoluble bond. My load of guilt was removed, and my evil propensities seemed to be slain. From this time, I reckon I first began to be a Christian.
Indeed, I did not formerly suspect that I had been carried away by a supposed new revelation; but, seeing my impressions came in the words of Scripture, thought it was only the old revelation applied afresh, by the Spirit of God. But, upon examination, I found myself mistaken; for, though the words of Scripture were the means of the impression, yet the meaning of those words, as they stood in the Bible, was lost in the application. For instance: The meaning of Isa. xli. 10. as it stands in the Bible, compared with ver. 9. is, that the true servants of God have no reason to be dismayed, for that God will strengthen, help, and uphold them in all their afflictions: but, when that passage occurred to my mind, I concluded that God had thereby revealed to me, that he was my God, and would uphold me, &c. But this was making it a new revelation, as much as if the impression had not been in the words of Scripture; because the meaning which it had before, and that which I put upon it, were totally distinct. It is a very different thing for God to promise to be the God of his servants, and his promising to be my God, or your God. It is very true, if I can prove myself to be a servant of God, borne down with fear and dismay, on account of the enemies of my soul, which I have to encounter, (as was the case with the children of Jacob there addressed,) then I should have just cause to conclude the promise to be mine; but if not, it is not the impression of such a promise that will prove my interest in it.
Again: The meaning of Psa. 50: 16. is, that wicked men (such as are described from ver. 17—22.) have no right to engage in teaching God's word; but it does not follow, from thence, that, because, that passage was impressed upon my mind in going to prayer, I was a wicked man, and had no right to draw near to God, and take his name into my mouth. To suppose that God then revealed to me that I ought not to take his name into my Tips, was making it a new revelation, and so adding to Scripture: for, except I bore the character j there described, the passage speaks no such thins.
Again: The meaning of Jer. ii. 24, is, that, let sinners be ever so set upon their lusts, there will come a time when they will be | tamed and taken, either by the grace or the judgements of God.Now such a passage as this being impressed on my mind, while I was praying for the conversion of one that was unconverted, could afford me no just ground to conclude that God would ever convert such a person rather than another; for, supposing the passage to contain a promise that the persons there spoken of should some time be stopped by the power of divine grace, it would not follow that this should be the case with the person for whose conversion 1 was concerned.
Once more: Such a passage as Jer. vii. 16, being impressed upon my mind, afforded me no just ground to conclude, that they on whose behalf I was engaged in prayer would never be converted; much less could it justify me in ceasing to pray for them; because, though there might be a particular reason why Jeremiah should not pray for those people, yet it did not follow, that the people for whom I prayed were in a similar situation, or that the same reason existed in the one case as in the other.
I could record many more such examples. All I say, is, when the truth contained in any passage of Scripture is opened to the mind, and impressed upon the heart, this is Christian experience—this is the work of the Spirit; but it is not his work to make any new revelation to the soul, of things not provable from Scripture, which is the ease when he is supposed to reveal to us that we are the children of God, by suggesting some passage of Scripture to our minds, which expresses so much of some other person or persons, there spoken of.
I have known many ill consequences arise from a dependence on such kind of impressions. Christians have been thereby led into error and misconduct When they have been at a loss about the path of duty in any particular case, they have had such a passage as this suggested to them—'This is the way, walk ye in it,'—and have concluded that that way which they were thinking of at the time such a passage occurred to their minds, must be the way of duty, and so have followed it, but which has often proved to be the wrong way. From the same cause, I have known Christians thrown into the utmost confusion about their state. A young person was under a heavy affliction. She had this passage, (if I remember right,) at that time impressed upon her mind— "Set thine house in order, for thou shalt surely die"—from whence she concluded she should not recover. A few days after, these words occurred to her—' This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God.' From hence, she must naturally conclude that they could not both be true, nor both come from God : consequently, she must be thrown into confusion about the other parts of her experience, and question whether all was not deception.
But this is not the worst. I have known great numbers of persons, whose conduct gave full proof that they were unconverted men, who nevertheless lived in hope of being saved at last, merely because some text of Scripture had been, at some part of their lives, impressed upon their minds. Indeed, I question if you could find one person in twenty, among those who nave been accustomed to hear the gospel, but who could tell you that some passage of Scripture had been impressed upon their minds, and had given them comfort, at some period or other in their lives. It is thus that multitudes go down to hell with a lie in their right hand!
Do not be alarmed, my friend, as if all your experience would thus be undermined. Though you may have rested pretty much on such evidence, I trust you have much better to rest upon. For my own part, I have not been much in doubt, as to my soul's state, forthese sixteen or eighteen years. The evidence on which I draw the favourable conclusion, is. a consciousness that 1 am on the Lord's side; that I love his character, his government, his gospel, his laws, is people; that, the more I know of them, the more I love them: and these are things to which God has promised salvation, all through the Bible.
There have been manv Scripture promises, as I said before, that have been sweet to my soul; but I am not used to make those promises mine any more than others. If I love Christ in sincerity, all the promises in the Bible, which relate to spiritual and eternal blessings, are mine; and it is upon the ground of what is promised in those which have never been particularly impressed upon the mind, that 1 build my hopes, as much as upon those that have: for I do not reckon a promise ever the more true, or ever the more made to me, because I have felt it To make this plain:—A child is heir to an extensive orchard; when the fruit is ripe, he walks into it; he tastes of one tree, and another; some of the trees he likes better than others, because the fruit tastes sweeter; he calls that his tree, whereas they are all his, only all do not taste equally sweet, at the same time, to his palate; perhaps, as he grows up, his taste may change a little, and then some which he thought light of will be preferred.
I acknowledge, that to rest our hopes upon such evidence as I propose, that is, upon a consciousness of our being the subjects of those dispositions to which the Scriptures promise salvation, is not the way to be always happy. If we indulge in secret sin, or live in the neglect of known duty, or sink into a spirit of conformity to the world, or a spirit of Laodicean lukewarmness, or be careless as to a close walk with God, or attend on ordinances without desire after communion with him;—in either of these cases, we shall, in a great degree, lose our consciousness of love to God, and consequently live in fear and bondage. Indeed, it is better that we should live so than to go about to persuade ourselves that all is well, and so settle upon our lees, in ungrounded security. Though after all, it is not desirable to live in such bondage; and the way to be delivered from it, is, to abound in those means which tend to cherish our love to God, for perfect love will cast out fear.
I think the above remarks may be of use to you, and contain an answer to your request, respecting my sermon on Mark ix. 2.—' Sun, be of good cheer,' &c
I am your affectionate pastor,