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03/02/2011 / Test All Things

A Letter To Joseph Tanner – September 12th, 1861

My dear Friend, Joseph Tanner.

I certainly have been much favored this summer with a measure of health and strength in going about to preach the Gospel; and I have found not only natural strength given according to my day, but I trust also my spiritual needs supplied, both for myself and the people, out of the fullness that is in Christ. But now I seem drooping, not being so well in body, and but lean and barren in soul, so that I am somewhat like the poor harvest laborer, who has had strength given him to cut down and gather in the corn, but feels wearied with so much harvest work. Ministers are laborers, and according to the Lord’s own figure, harvest laborers; for he bade His disciples pray that the Lord of the harvest would send laborers into the harvest. But in the spiritual as in the natural field, laborers not loiterers are needed; and when the crop is heavy, the sun hot, and the day long, the laborer must needs feel weary and worn. But as he will not grudge his labors if they have gathered the corn well in, and he has received his harvest wages; so the spiritual laborers must not repine, if their labors are blessed to the gathering in of immortal souls, and they receive the rewarding testimony of the Lord’s approbation in their own bosom.

As a nation we have been highly favored this harvest. You will recollect your drive one evening to hear poor Mr. Shorter, when you had to pass through flooded lanes, and saw the corn drenched with water in the fields. But had I come among you this year, all your crops would long ago have been safely secured before the anniversary of my former visit. Many hearts were trembling, and many anxious eyes were scanning the appearance of the clouds of heaven when I was in Wilts, as all bore in remembrance the harvest of 1860, and would have sunk at the recurrence of such a calamitous season.

It is often so in grace as in nature. The trials and afflictions of the past make us dread a recurrence of them. Our coward flesh shrinks from the cross, and though we cannot deny that we have received benefit from the suffering, yet we dread to be put again into the same furnace. Besides our usual trials, we had heavy ones last year—I in my affliction under your roof, and you shortly afterwards in Seymour’s leaving you for a foreign shore. Could we wish to have a recurrence of these trials, even though we hope they were in a measure overruled and sanctified to our soul’s good, and perhaps to the good of others? But the Lord does not consult us, either as to the nature or the time of those trials and afflictions which He is pleased, in sovereign wisdom, to lay upon us. It is our mercy when we can see His hand, not only bringing them on, but supporting us under them, and carrying us through them. If we had no personal trials, temptations, or afflictions, we would not do to stand up before the Lord’s people, for they for the most part are painfully tried, and many of them severely afflicted. It would be therefore impossible for us to enter with any feeling into their tried cases, unless we ourselves knew something experimentally of the path of tribulation.

It is a great mercy if the Lord be pleased by His dealings with us in providence or in grace to keep our souls, not only alive, but lively. There is such a tendency in us to slide down into a state of carnality and ease, to get away, as it were, from the burden of the cross, and as Job speaks, to swallow down our spittle—alluding, I presume, to the difference between doing so at ease in the cool shade, and having a throat parched with traveling through the hot wilderness. How needful it is, with the Lord’s help and blessing, to have our loins girt about and our lights burning! How soon we sink down into carnality and death, and like a rower plying against the stream, at once fall down with the current when we cease to ply our oars. These oars are prayer, reading, meditation, and heart examination, and without them, too soon we slip away from the harbor to which we hope we are bending our course. And yet we daily find that we cannot use these oars to purpose, except the Lord be pleased to put strength into us. We may indeed attempt to use them, and should not cease to do so. But alas! of how little avail are they, unless He who teaches the hands to war and the fingers to fight, teach us also their use, and give us power to use them in His strength, not our own.

Yours very affectionately,
J. C. P.

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