A Letter To Thomas Godwin – February 9th, 1848
My dear friend, Thomas Godwin
If I delay much longer to write you will think I have fulfilled the old saying, “Out of sight out of mind,” or that something has occurred, as illness, to prevent me. I am glad, however, to say that neither of these causes has prevented; for, as regards the former, I can say, I never felt a better union with you since we first knew one another; and, as regards the latter, I am much as when you left Stamford.
I hope, my dear friend, your visit here was of the Lord. I am sure that our friends heard you with sweetness and power, much more than they ever did here before, and I hope we may one day see more clearly that you came with a message from God by the fruits and effects following. We sometimes do not hear for years, and perhaps never, of any blessing that may have rested on our ministry. We could not bear much of either — for or against. To hear too much, or to hear too little, of what God may condescend to do by us might not suit our pride or our despondency. I have sometimes thought myself a wonderfully great man, and sometimes felt myself one of the poorest noodles that ever stood up in a pulpit.
My dear friend, how much I feel as you describe; and it is, in my right mind, one of my greatest griefs and troubles that I am so earthly, sensual, and devilish. I remember, as I think I told you, somewhere about this time twenty-one years ago, when eternal things seemed first laid with weight and power upon my soul, that for many months two subjects only occupied my mind — a temporal trouble that I was passing through, which cost me almost rivers of tears and sighs, and the solemn things of eternity.
I may one day open up a little of what I then passed through, when I have often wetted the pommel of my saddle with tears amid the lonely valleys of the Wicklow hills, or galloped half distracted along the seashore, where no mortal eye could see or ear hear me cry and groan, sometimes from natural trouble, and sometimes in pouring out my soul before the Lord. I did not then think I would ever be the carnal and careless wretch which I often now feel to be. I once told friend Parry, when I first went to Allington, that “I often had no more religion than a horse.” Friend Parry could not then receive such a speech, though since he has often found himself in the same plight. Next to the cutting feelings of a guilty conscience I feel my own carnality my greatest burden. Oh, what a cumber-ground! Oh, what an unprofitable wretch! Oh, what a fruitless branch do I feel myself to be! with just enough feeling to sigh a little after the Lord as I lie awake in the dead and still night. As Hart says – “Fickle fools, and false to You.” And again – “Only wise by fits and starts.”
I think I feel a little stronger these last few days. I get out and walk, which seems to do me more good than anything else. George Isbell and I walked to Tinwell today, and I felt all the better for it when I came home. The fresh air seemed to revive me. He is but middling, and much harassed with different things.
My poor sister, Mrs. Watts, is, I fear, very ill, and much tried both in mind and body. I hope the Lord may appear for her. . . . I wish you could drop in, that we might have a little talk as we had when you were here. I much enjoyed your visit and company. I have not had your depths nor heights, but I know scarcely another man that I can travel so well with in spiritual things. Your letters seem sometimes written out of my heart.
I once made great attempts to be holy, and was going on pretty well, with, however, some terrible inward pull-backs sometimes, until the winter of 1830-31, when it all went to wreck and ruin. Death stared me in the face, and I used to count how many months I had to live. How I used then to roll about on my midnight bed, with scarcely a hope in my soul, and turned my face to the wall like good old Hezekiah!
Some have said and thought that I stole my religion from books. But I preached experience before I knew there were such men as experimental preachers, or such writings as experimental books. I never stole a searching ministry from anyone, for I did not know there were such ministers. But I was searched, and I searched others; and I actually thought when I left the Church of England that all the Baptist Calvinist ministers were in that line of things. And I believe, in my conscience, that at my Thursday evening lecture at Stadham, when I was in the Church of England, I used to preach at times more searchingly than I have done since. For why? Because I was being searched myself. But I must not run on any more like this, for if I do you will begin to say, “What is my friend J. C. P. about, praising himself so?”
My friend, I have sometimes gone into the pulpit full of confusion, and sometimes as guilty as a malefactor, begging mercy, cut up with guilt and shame. Where was my, 1st, doctrine, 2nd, experience, 3rd, practice, then? And after preaching at Zoar I have almost roared aloud in the cab with real sorrow of heart, and just stopped while the wooden pavement was passed over, lest the cabman should hear me. There was not much self-applause for a nicely divided sermon then. To my mind, what we read together in ____’s sermon cuts up experimental preaching root and branch. Where was your nicely divided doctrinal sermon, the first evening you preached here, when the friends heard you so well? I know for myself that when I preach doctrinally it is when my soul is not exercised; and when I am in that carnal state I sometimes hate myself for every word that I say, and hate and am condemned for any prating chatter.
To preach what is called “a great sermon,” condemns me inwardly as a presumptuous wretch; and my carnal liberty and great swelling words about Jesus Christ trouble me more than darkness and bondage. In my right mind I would rather stumble on with a little life and feeling in my soul than preach the greatest sermon in the world without it, and I know that my friend Thomas Godwin is of the same mind. How little godly fear can a man have to say inwardly, after preaching free grace, “Well done!” But I shall tire you with my chatter.
Yours very affectionately,
J. C. P.