A Letter To Joseph Tanner – November 14th, 1860
My dear friend, Joseph Tanner.
I hope that by this time both you and your dear wife are in some measure reconciled to the departure of your dear son to a foreign shore, and are enabled in some measure to see the Lord’s hand in it. Time has a wonderful effect in healing grief and soothing sorrow, at least where that sorrow does not arise from sin and guilt; for that is a wound which time can never heal.
You will be glad to hear that, through mercy, I am better than when I left you, and have been enabled to preach on the last two Lord’s days. I still continue however weak and tender, and have my fears whether I shall be able to continue preaching throughout the winter. How various are the trials and afflictions of those who desire to fear God, and walk in His ways. But though they may differ in nature and degree, yet they are, for the most part, as much as they can well bear. The Lord indeed is very gracious in not laying upon them more than they can bear; but He will give them all enough to find and feel that this world is full of sin and sorrow; that their own hearts are full of evil; and that nothing but the pure, rich, free, superabounding grace of God can save or bless their souls.
It seems as if we needed day by day to be taught over and over again our own sinfulness, weakness, and helplessness, and that none but the blessed Lord can do us any real good. Religion is not like any art or science which, when once learned, is learned forever; but is a thing which we are ever forgetting, and ever learning over and over again. Nor can we make any use of our knowledge, experience, or faith. It is like a well that is of no use unless water is drawn out of it by the hand of another. We may have a certain knowledge, both of ourselves and the Lord Jesus, and have had raised up from time to time a living faith in Him; but we cannot make any use of our knowledge or our faith, at least so as to do us any sensible good.
The clay cannot mold itself into a vessel; it requires a potter’s wheel and a potter’s hand. So we are but the clay, and God must be our Potter; for we only are what is pleasing in His sight, as we are the work of His hand. It is a great lesson, and yet a painful one, to be made nothing; to feel one’s self weaker than the weakest, and viler than the vilest; to be a pauper living upon daily alms, and to be made often to beg, and yet sensibly to get nothing.
People think sometimes how highly favoured ministers are; they view them almost as if they were angels, and were possessed of a faith far beyond the generality of God’s people. But if they could see them as they see and feel themselves, they would find that they were men of like passions with themselves, and often in their feelings sunk down lower than many of their hearers; more tried and exercised, more assailed with temptation, and but for God’s grace, more prone to fall. In fact, it must be so. It is necessary that those who stand up to preach to the hearts of others, should have a deep acquaintance with their own; that those who have to preach trials and exercises, should be well acquainted with what they speak; and that those who set forth the Lord Jesus Christ, should know something experimentally of His beauty and blessedness, grace and glory. Unless ministers are well exercised in their own minds, they are pretty sure to drop into the spirit of the world, and to depart in their feelings from the life and power of vital godliness. We must be in a thing, that we may speak feelingly of it.
You can now tell what a father feels when a son leaves his house for a foreign land; and those who have to pass through a similar experience will at once know that you were in it. So therefore, unless a minister be feelingly in the things of God by a daily experience, he cannot speak of them with any life, power, or freshness. The life of God must be kept up in his soul, or he cannot be a ‘bosom of consolation’ to the family of God. Now this sometimes makes us very rebellious, that we should have to go through so many trials and temptations, to be able to speak a word in season to others. We naturally love a smooth and easy path, and would almost sooner forego the blessing, than get it in God’s way. But He gives us no choice in the matter; for He leads the blind by a way that they know not.
Your affectionate friend,
J. C. P.