[To Mrs. J., R. H., M A, H., &c.] Hertford, 26 July 1842.
My dear Friends,
I have reason to be thankful that the Lord has restored my health, but have had no heart to put pen to paper, though my thoughts have not been altogether unfruitful, nor have I by the grace of God been destitute of many sweet tokens of the Lord's favour. My morning readings have been attended by many; but I am made to feel them all daily to be sown in great weakness, and I often tremble when I enter the room and see so many waiting to hear. My late afflictions made me speak much of the furnace that is to refine; but, as I have myself found, I tell them further that there can be no sanctified conflict without a conquest. My heart has often been enlarged in the declaration of my trials, and the manner in which the Lord most sweetly supports me; so that instead of self-pity and the sorrow of the world, I find repentance unto life and an acknowledgment of God's infinite and righteous wisdom in all his dispensations; and this leads to spiritual diligence, to hear what the Lord says in his word that he will do for all such, which is much more profitable than looking at "things that are seen."
Never in all my life before have I watched so closely what the Lord will do in me and for me, and what that is which he has spoken upon my heart. I feel a readiness, by the grace of God, to believe that I may have mistaken the meaning of many words upon which he has caused me to hope; but I still watch, and plead them until I am absolutely forbidden, or perceive that the accomplishment of what I conceived to be set forth in them is totally out of the question. I have had some of these tokens respecting my afflicted daughter H., and even now while I am writing I am comforted with a hope that I shall one day or other see the salvation of God. I am not looking for great things in this life, but for the secret display of God's favour, which has at different times been brought into my heart in answer to earnest prayer and in great heaviness of spirit. I could scarcely hope the Lord would hear; and yet I can clear him, even if that which I have felt be not accomplished. Nevertheless, I keep pleading the same, and I am sure I should have fainted had I not believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. I do not ask when or in what manner, but wait to see the sovereign pleasure of God move in our behalf.
It has pleased God to bring me very low under all these circumstances, but in these low places he has given many sweet tokens of his lovingkindness. His word has been very precious and I must confess that the whole has been very profitable in many ways. "It is good for me that I have been afflicted," for I never knew so much the extent of what the Apostle says - Neither height nor depth can separate us from the love of Christ. If it were not so, in the depth I must have utterly despaired. I can say also, O the depth of the riches of his grace! "How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" I have also felt great fear and awe upon my spirit; something (I think) like that mentioned in Acts - "Great fear fell upon all the churches." I am sure by these various afflictions I am made to die to the world, and to see an increasing vanity upon all created things; also to acknowledge how much further than I had formerly considered, the Lord may cause his judgments to follow his people; only I see that with them all there is mercy.
Our poor old friend Mrs. Judd, who dwells near this place, has been tried in all directions. The last survivor of her twelve children, a son nearly fifty years old, appears now on the brink of eternity, without a good hope. She is herself blind, bed-ridden, often oppressed in spirit with a horror of great darkness; and has been living without any one in the house to help them, destitute of the common comforts of life, though they were formerly very respectable farmers, having plenty of everything, and their family prosperous around them. She told me to-day how independent of God she had been in her prosperity, being quite sure she should never be moved; "but now," she said, "I am deprived of everything; my sin has procured these afflictions; but I can bless the Lord with all my heart for his infinite goodness and wonderful mercy. It is indeed a marvellous thing that the Lord should look in mercy upon such a sinner as I; for though I have had so much of this horror of late, it has not been without some transient views of his favour."
In reading Psalm cvii. this morning, I have found how many times God's people are minished, and brought low; but it is always added that they cried unto the Lord, and he saved them out of ALL their distresses; and then follows what I gladly join in - "O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!"
The Lord has often given intimations of heavy troubles coming on, and has never told us the bounds. When I was young I took all the comfort that the word of God set forth, but as for these things I passed them over, or supposed they belonged to somebody, I knew not whom. Such words as these - "He shall sit as a Refiner," "Who may abide the day of his coming?" with the long list of Paul's perils, and the like, were all laid aside, either as past, or not to happen in these days. But the Lord has shown me that as it was in the beginning, so it is now, and ever shall be - "WE MUST THROUGH MUCH TRIBULATION ENTER INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD;" and I now declare for the encouragement of all young people, that "the wealthy place" is as sure as "the fire and the water." How have I been made to kiss the rod, and would not have it otherwise for ten thousand worlds! This grace has been given me in the furnace; a grace I never thought of before I had been well immersed in trouble.
Dear Mrs. James, you have been long inured to afflictions, which being sanctified, you have learnt many wholesome lessons; and one above all, namely, that the Lord Jesus Christ will never, NEVER leave you, but will give you an expected end. May the Lord grant to each and all of you, not to be frightened at the cross, but to keep your eyes steadily on that incorruptible crown that never changes, reserved in heaven for all broken-hearted sinners.
Yours very truly, J. B.