London, 6 March 1841.
Dear Miss H.,
The nearer I come to my end the more my fears are excited, lest I be found sleeping, and not listening to what the Lord says. This leads to much secret examination, confession, and repentance, and I should be of all men most miserable, if the Lord did not return in mercy to my soul. The judgments of God are a great deep. Old as I am, I see fresh instances of them towards his people, unexpected, unfathomable, unsearchable; and these things the Lord does that men may fear before him. A light profession is no better than the crackling of thorns under a pot; it is full of noise and outward zeal, but has no real solid work of the Spirit wrought upon the heart, and therefore dies in the time of extremity. I have seen much that hid fair in the onset; but when the blessed Lord of the vineyard came to see the fruit, it was all wild grapes [Isaiah v. 2].
These things are set forth in the Scriptures for you and me to lay to heart; that we may not hastily conclude there is no fear of our being found in the like case; but very cautiously inquire what the Lord says about it, and whether he bears testimony in our conscience that we are his. You will say, Have I not told you in my letter what the Lord has done for me? True; but through the unceasing power of the enemy there will be a necessity for the renewal of the Lord's visits continually, or we shall lose sight of our hope. Nothing confirms the past tokens of God's love so sweetly as present tokens of his being with us and in us.
I thought you cut short your last letter, only answering one part of mine. Could you clearly discriminate between a minister of the letter and one of the Spirit? The minister of the letter, though preaching every truth, tender in his walk, and approved of men, yet not being sent of God, cannot minister the Spirit to the afflicted, but will always bring them into bondage, and leave them there. "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." A minister of the Spirit is one whom God instructs, and sends, and to whom he gives authority. His word shall enter, and it shall be as the sword of the Spirit, which shall effectually instruct the child of God in such terrible and deep lessons of humiliation as shall bring him in hopeless and helpless; and here it shall also set before him an open door, even Christ Jesus, while the Spirit working faith in the heart brings in the Saviour, as the only Friend suitable and all-sufficient to meet his troubles, counteract his despair, and give him a sweet hope of eternal life. The minister of the Spirit being himself the subject of manifold temptations, will take heed carefully to watch how the Lord helps him, and that he does not fall asleep in his trials, but fights hard against the world, the flesh, and the devil; and manifests his walking in the Spirit by his prevalency with the Lord. Such an one will be able to set before an afflicted people much encouragement, and show them that his Christ is "a tried stone, a sure foundation;" and this will be very different from head-knowledge and a dry description of the work of God.
I hope you will be able to discern the difference, and to see your danger. There is no end of false Christs; many cry Lo, here! and Lo, there! but after all that is said about the universal spread of the Gospel, and the wonderful light of the present day, the Saviour's words must be true - "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." "This is a hard saying, who can hear it?" I am often charged with being too narrow and exclusive, but I must tell you all my heart. The judgments of God have made me tremble on all hands, both in my own family and myself; and I hope "my soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled within me." This does not work bondage, but filial fear and holy awe and reverence, and what certainly becomes a sinner saved by sovereign grace.
May the Lord instruct you in these things more and more, and especially not to take things for granted, for all is not gold that glitters, nor is all vital godliness that seems to move itself aright, and shows a fair colour in the cup. [Prov. xxiii. 31.]
Yours faithfully in the Lord, J. B.