A Letter To Joseph Parry – June 2nd, 1849
My dear friend, Joseph Parry
I reached home safely, through mercy, on the Friday, to dinner, and found my dear wife and little family pretty well.
I preached at Wellingborough Thursday evening, 24th. If “like priest like people,” be a true saying, I would fear there was not much life, power, or feeling in the congregation; and I felt but little in my own soul. My words seemed to rebound upon me almost as if I were throwing balls against a brick wall. Good, however, might still be done, as our feelings are in these matters by no means infallible marks. I would be sorry to set up my feelings as a tribunal from which there is no appeal; though we cannot help being to a certain extent guided and influenced by them. I consider this a nice and difficult point. I have generally found that when I have gone contrary to my feelings as regards men and things, I have erred, and more or less suffered in consequence. We may be thus slighting the secret leadings and impressions of the Holy Spirit. But, again, we may be under wrong impressions which a subsequent experience may correct. In this, as in all other matters, wisdom is profitable to direct. In all our movements and actings we need grace to teach, guide and direct; and without it we are sure to err.
My visit to Allington seems now almost like a dream. I would hope, however, that all the effects have not so passed away. A minister should leave a sweet savour of heavenly things wherever he goes. If he does not he will make the people worse instead of better. When the Holy Spirit makes our bodies His temple He will cast forth some rays of His indwelling presence. Christians will either spiritualize or carnalize each other; will stir up one another to good or evil. When we are ourselves a little spiritual, we are grieved to see the children of God, and especially those whom we love, worldly and carnal. This makes us get away from them, and in solitude seek the Lord, feeling no pleasure nor rest outside of Him. Time and experience correct many errors, and especially in religion. I am daily more and more convinced that it is a secret work carried on in private between God and the soul. The conscience is the grand battlefield where the conflict is fought. Condemnation and justification in all their various branches and workings are there felt and known. And unless we live much alone, and are more or less continually engaged with this inward communion of heart, our religion withers away. “Commune with your own heart on your bed, and be still.” I only wish I could live a more separate life, and have eyes, ears, and heart more separate from the world lying in wickedness.
The friends here consider me looking better than when I left; and, indeed, I feel so myself. It always suits me best when I can get air and exercise. But I often find when I am, as it were, congratulating myself with being better, and so forgetting to die daily, I get a pull-back; and so now some of my old pains and sensations admonish me not to be high-minded, but fear. Like escaped greyhounds, how madly and eagerly we rush afield when the hand that checks seems a little to slacken its hold! But evening comes, and the old collar is slipped over our necks; and perhaps a beating is added for our wild roamings.
A head-ache or a sinking market, or a sense of guilt and bondage, or a solemn view of eternity, or a remembrance of past backslidings and sins, or a slip with the tongue or feet, or some unaccountable depression of spirits — each or any or all put the feet in the stocks. I am well persuaded that without exercises the soul cannot be kept alive; that is, in a healthy or spiritual sense. He who began must carry on; He who kindled must keep alive; He who is the Author must also be the Finisher of faith. This we are well persuaded of in our judgment; but we have to learn it in daily experience. And, I believe, it is often to us a cause of inward condemnation that we are what we are; that we have not more life and feeling, more prayerfulness and watchfulness, more knowledge of and communion with the blessed Jesus. We condemn graceless professors, and would rather open our lips no more upon religion than speak like them; and yet how much we really resemble them! Indeed, we differ from them only as far as our souls are kept alive by exercises and gracious influences and operations. All things that we see and hear, the very necessary business of life, and all our relationships in the world, only tend to deaden and harden our souls. And though we can leave neither our families nor the world, and must continue in the calling where God has placed us, yet we shall ever find it our wisdom and mercy to live much alone as regards our souls.
In this point you are much favoured. You have fields and downs, quiet meadows and isolated walks, where you may think, meditate, and pray. And as these fields have formerly witnessed your sighs and tears, so may they witness your blessings and praises until the green sod covers your body in that little spot which many gracious feet have trod, and where sleep our friends, R. Dredge, poor farmer Wild, and others, that we have been united to in life, and from whom we hope death will not separate us.
We may have worldly troubles and worldly mercies, and our hearts may be often depressed by the one, and carried away by the other; but, after all, there is nothing really enduring and satisfying but grace in its Fountain and in its streams.
Yours very affectionately,
J. C. P.
J. C. P.