A Letter To Mr Tips – June 29th, 1858
My dear Friend Mr. Tips,
I hope that the blessed Lord, who has called you by His distinguishing grace, who has planted His fear in your heart—a precious new covenant blessing (Jer. 32:40), who has convinced you of your lost and ruined state by nature, and given unto you to believe in the Son of His love (Phil. 1:29; Eph. 2:8), is also carrying on His divine work in your heart (Phil. 1:6), and making you fit for the inheritance of the saints in light (Col. 1:12). It is a most rich and unspeakable mercy, that those whom Jesus loves, He loves to the end, and that His sheep shall never perish, neither shall anyone pluck them out of His hand. This is the grand security of the saints of God; for their inherent sinfulness and weakness are so great; Satan is so crafty and so strong; sin so powerful and deceptive; and the world so entangling and alluring; that but for the special and unceasing grace of God, they must perish, and concerning faith make sure and awful shipwreck.
But the members of the mystical body, of which Jesus is the exalted Head (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18), can no more perish than He can, for they are united to Him by an act of sovereign grace, given them in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4); and thus being constituted members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones (Eph. 5:30), the members can no more perish than their Head. Would you willingly allow the tip of your little finger to be cut off, or to perish of mortification? Would it be a complete body if any member were absent? The high priest under the law was to be “without blemish.” He was to have no member deficient, and none superfluous (Lev. 21:17-21). So it is with the blessed Jesus, the great High Priest over the house of God (Heb. 10:21). His body is a perfect body, as set up in the mind of God, as the Holy Spirit describes in Psalm 139:16. Before an architect builds a house or any other structure, he has the plan carefully drawn out in his mind, and then upon paper. While the building is going on, the bystanders have a very imperfect conception of the plan of the architect, and the beauty of the building; but he knows where every stone should be placed, and when the whole is completed, it is but the execution of his original design. So in grace; the church of God is compared to a building (1 Cor. 3:9; Heb. 3:6; 1 Peter 2:5). These stones of which this spiritual house consists are “living stones”, that is, stones made alive unto God by His regenerating grace; and by their union and communion with the Lord and with each other, grow up into a holy temple in the Lord, being built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:21, 22).
Amid all the errors that abound, and all the declensions from the faith, experience, zeal, hope, and love of those great and godly men who once formed the bulwark and the glory of your country, it is a mercy that the Lord has yet a seed to serve Him in your native land. Those very universities and schools which were founded for the purpose of becoming fountains of truth, to spread their healing streams over the land, have now become springs of deadly poison and error. It is something like what is described of the star called Wormwood, which holy John saw fall from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and falling upon the rivers and fountains of waters, (Rev. 8:10, 11). When the springs are poisoned at the fountain-head, they must carry death and destruction wherever they flow.
But there is a precious promise given to the believing disciples of the blessed Lord, that if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them (Mark 16:18). Thus while the children of the wicked one greedily drink down the poisonous cup that is filled with the vine of Sodom, and the fields of Gomorrah, whose wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps (Deut. 32:33), the children of God reject the deadly draught, and can only drink the pure wine of His grape (Deut. 32:14). The wise mother of King Lemuel gave her son gracious directions, when she bade him to “give strong drink unto him who is ready to perish, and wine to those who are of heavy hearts” (Prov. 31:6). It is when we begin to feel the misery into which we have been cast by sin, and thus become ready to perish and of heavy hearts, that the pure wine of Gospel grace is suitable to our lost condition. As the holiness and justice of God are discovered to the conscience, and we are made to see and feel the depths of the Adam fall, we look out of ourselves for a salvation which we could not find in our fallen nature, or in our deeply corrupt and unbelieving heart. When then we obtain, by living faith, a view of the Son of God as a Mediator between God and men; when we see by the eye of faith the blood of the cross, and the full and complete atonement which He, as the Lamb of God, made for sin, then we heartily embrace Him as “made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). We see and feel that there is salvation in Him and in no other (Acts 4:12); and as this salvation is seen to be worthy of God and suitable to us, as it answers all the demands of God’s holy law, and glorifies it by rendering it an obedience as far excelling ours as heaven excels earth and God surpasses man, we embrace it as our justifying righteousness and covering robe, from the eyes of Him who, outside of Christ, is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29).
These doctrines, however they may be neglected or despised, are the doctrines according to godliness, which God has revealed in His Word of truth, and which He makes known by a divine power, to the hearts of those who fear His great and glorious name. Because men of corrupt minds, destitute of the truth, and supposing that gain is godliness (1 Tim. 6:5) have perverted the truth of God, their wicked and erroneous perversions do not at all impair divine revelation. They have not succeeded in polluting God’s pure Word, or shutting it up from the people. They may, and do, deceive themselves, and their wretched disciples; but they never can, never will, deceive the elect of God (Matt. 24:24). All who are taught of God will escape their bewitching errors, for to them there is given an annointing from the Holy One, and they know all things. This anointing which they have received from the Lord abides in them; it teaches them of all things, and is truth and no lie, and the effect of it is to cause them to abide in Christ (1 John 2:20 27).
I hope that my dear friend feels more and more his weakness and helplessness, and is enabled to look more believingly and steadfastly to the Lord Jesus Christ. You will never find anything good in yourself, for the Apostle’s own testimony is—”I know that in me (that is in my flesh) dwells no good thing.” . . . As my sermons are often read in congregations where there is no preacher, and as those who know and love the truth are for the most part poor and illiterate, I have to guard against using such words and expressions as are beyond the reach of uneducated people. Being myself an educated man, naturally fond of literature, and acquainted with both some of the ancient and modern languages, I find it difficult always to suit my expressions to my hearers. But I hope the Lord has given me a desire to “condescend to men of low estate”, and made me willing and desirous to speak in that simple, clear language which suits all classes, being neither too high for the low, nor too low for the high.
My desire is to exalt the grace of God, to proclaim salvation alone through the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ; to declare the sinfulness, helplessness, and hopelessness of man in a state of nature, and to describe, as far as I am able, the living experience of the saints of God in their trials, temptations, and sorrows, and in their consolations and blessings. All this brings with it labour and trial; but I do not know what else we have to live for in this world but to advance, as far as we can, the kingdom of Christ, the glory of God, and the well-being of the saints of the Most High; and if the Lord has, in His providence and grace, called me to the distinguished honour of ministering in His holy name, it should even be my object, as I hope it really is, to proclaim His grace and glory, and to seek so to do it that it may be owned and blessed by God the Holy Spirit to the souls of the saints of God.
I never sought the position in which I find myself placed, and the thought of that is sometimes a comfort to me. My natural desire would be to lead a quiet, obscure life, as I know both the perils and the trials to which a more public and prominent situation exposes a man. Many eyes are upon him to watch his movements—some waiting for good, and some for evil; some as friends, and others as foes; some as “helpers of his joy”, and others hinderers, and as far as permitted persecutors, because he preaches a Gospel which they hate.
The struggle between truth and error, free grace and free will, Christ and Belial, heaven and hell, is still going on in this country as in yours; the strong man armed is keeping his palace in many hearts, nor will he give way until one stronger than he comes upon him, takes away all his armour wherein he trusted, and divides the spoils. If we are on the side of Christ, we must expect much opposition from without and from within; many afflictions, trials, and temptations, to prove the reality and strength of our faith, as well as those communications of wisdom and strength out of His fullness, without which all our own strivings are worthless and useless.
It rejoices me to find that there is in Holland a poor and afflicted people who trust in the Lord, and know and love His truth. I have read with much pleasure and interest the prefaces prefixed to the various issues of my sermons, especially one by den Heer A. P. du Cloux, which has given me a greater insight into the character and condition of the people of God in your country, than anything else which I have seen on the subject. In spite of all the miserable Socinianism and infidelity which from Germany and France have flooded your unhappy land; notwithstanding the atheistic influences of the first French Revolution, from which we, as an insular nation, were in some degree preserved; notwithstanding the state of theology in the universities and schools, one cannot but think that a country which produced so many martyrs to the Spanish Inquisition in the time of the Reformation, and has since given birth to such gracious and eminent divines as Herman Witsius, Hoombeeck, &c., cannot be abandoned of God. Nothing can be sounder than your old Dutch confession of faith, or the articles of the Synod of Dort, and you as a nation are blessed with one of the most faithful and admirable translations of the Word of God from the original languages, that any Protestant nation has been favoured with. The blessing that has rested upon our English translation is inexpressible; nor is it possible that so great a gift as the Scriptures in the Dutch language can have been given to you as a nation in vain. Though divine matters may be at a low ebb with you as regards spiritual experience and vital godliness, and though schools and universities, professors and preachers, may be enemies to Christ and His Gospel, yet you have as a nation, beyond almost any in Europe, the elements of a gracious revival. You have a large measure of civil liberty, toleration, a free press, an admirable translation of the Scriptures, and a sound confession of faith. You have the memory and example of godly ancestors, whom all the power of the Spanish monarchy could neither daunt nor crush; and you have as their descendants, a scattered people who know and love the Gospel.
How differently are you situated from the neighbouring countries of Belgium and France; and though perhaps one is apt to attribute too much importance to one’s own labours and productions, I cannot but hail the favourable reception and the large sale that my sermons have met with in Holland as a token for good. For I know who they are, for the most part in this country, who read them with interest, pleasure, and profit, and that they generally are those who know and love the truth of God as applied by the Holy Spirit to the soul. I come before my own countrymen as one known to them for more than twenty years, speaking in a language which is familiar to them; but I come before my friends and readers in Holland as a foreigner, unknown to them by name or character, and having the disadvantage of speaking in an idiom not altogether agreeing with their own. To what then am I, under the blessing of God, to attribute their favorable reception, but to the force with which they commend themselves to men’s consciences? I may perhaps here quote the words of Heer A. P. A. du Cloux — “Shall I recommend these sermons? No, they recommend themselves.”
I was also struck with a remark in the same preface, that while the poor and afflicted family find the truth in other men’s writings, they do not find their life in them, and that is just what they find in mine. My aim and desire have been to put into them, so to speak, the life of God, and the true experience of a living soul; and seeing that many of my readers in Holland have found that life in them, does it not show that they must have themselves divine life to find and feel it there? I also hail with great pleasure the fact that ministers of God’s Word in your country have been found willing to translate and recommend the sermons. There is so much miserable jealously in the human heart, that I cannot but think grace must have overcome their pride and prejudice against the writings of a stranger, and made them willing to listen to a voice from beyond the sea.
And now, my dear friend, accept my thanks for your affectionate and welcome letter and Believe me to be,
Yours affectionately, in the bonds of the Gospel,
J. C. P.