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06/02/2011 / Test All Things

A Letter To Joseph Parry – January 11th, 1861

My dear Friend, Mr. Parry.

You will be desirous, I have no doubt, to hear how I am this severe weather. I may well call it severe, for we have not had a winter for some years during which the thermometer has been so low; and at present there does not seem much prospect of an alteration. I am thankful, then, to say, that though I feel the cold, yet I am quite as well as I could possibly expect, and, indeed, I may say, much better than when I saw you last at Cirencester. I preached last Lord’s-day in the morning, and think that I could have stayed for the afternoon had I not made arrangements to come home. The weather was so extremely severe that we had not our usual congregation; still there were quite as many as could be expected, considering that very many of our friends come out of the country, and no doubt they felt a little uncertainty whether I would be out to preach in consequence of the extreme severity of the weather. . . .

You know that for many years I have taken an interest in agricultural matters, not only as having friends among the tillers of the soil, but as feeling its general importance to the whole country. It has struck me, therefore, that this severe frost may be mercifully sent to dry and pulverize the hard clays after they have been so saturated with last year’s continual dripping; so that if the Lord be pleased to give us a suitable spring, and a warn and dry summer, we may see the benefit of what now pinches our frames, chills our blood, and nips our fingers.

What a deep fund of unbelief and infidelity there is in the heart of man, ever ready to start up like a wild beast from its lair and seize hold of any coming forth of the life of God in the actings of faith! I have sometimes thought that it is scarcely possible for any among the living family of God to have a heart so full of unbelief and infidelity as I carry in my bosom. But I know this, that the grace of God, and the grace of God alone, is able to subdue it. My wonder is, not that all do not believe, but that any do; it is not the multitude of unbelievers which surprises me, for this I know all men are, but that any should, by the power of God, have their unbelief subdued and overthrown, and the grace of faith communicated and kept alive in their bosom.

We are entered upon another year. The last, as you will remember I said in the pulpit when I was at Allington, was an eventful one, and we do not know what circumstances lie hidden in the bosom of 1861 to make it even more eventful than 1860. We are no longer young. Our families are growing up around us; they are the generation that is pushing us out of our place, as a young healthy shoot pushes off and displaces a decaying one. We feel, and that more deeply and more sensibly every day, that we are passing away out of this time state; and when we look around, what is there abiding? for we all seem like the passengers by a railway, all of whom are journeying by the same means of conveyance, and though each drops off from the train at different stations, yet all eventually come to a terminus where they leave the line. As then we see and feel that all is passing away, what a mercy it is if we can look beyond this vain scene to that which abides forever and ever! “We have no abiding city here,” is a lesson which the Lord writes upon the heart of all His pilgrims; and as it is more deeply engraved upon their bosom, and cut into more legible characters, they look up and out of themselves to that City which has foundations, of which the maker and builder is God.

You, no doubt, feel something of this from day to day, and so far as you do, it will keep you from looking forward too anxiously to, or thinking too much of, the house which they are building for you at Allington. It is very blessed when we can use the favors of God in providence without abusing them; can see His kind hand in the gift and not make an idol of it; can bless Him for His providential mercies, and yet feel that without Himself they are not only worthless but miserable. How many have lived all their lives in beautiful houses, have never known a day’s hunger, have eaten of the fat and drunk of the sweet all the days of their life, have lain down at night in a luxurious bed, where they have felt neither cold nor frost; and yet at last when their mortal existence has come to a close, have made their bed in hell!

When I say this, I may add that I sincerely hope that you may have a comfortable house, that your life may be spared long to live in it, and health be granted that neither house nor life may be a burden. But with all that, I wish for you, and I wish for myself, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, with which we may be clothed when the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved and reduced to its native dust. Even the troubles and trials which we meet with in the way are so far made blessings as they become thorns to prevent us settling down in our nest and counting our days as the sand. How often the very circumstance on which we most set our heart is made to be the source of the keenest trial! And how many have built houses, and either not lived to go into them, or have soon yielded up their breath when they have taken possession of them.

Poor Mr. M____, no doubt, promised himself many years of enjoyment in his new house; but the Almighty Disposer of events had ordered it otherwise, and while He allows a Sally Durnford, and a Nanny Benger to creep on to the extreme verge of life, mows down in the prime of his years the father of a family, and the possessor of the finest farm, perhaps, in your county. What lessons such things would teach us if our eyes were more open to see, our ears to hear, and our hearts to feel their solemn import! But I am well convinced that however enlightened our judgments may be, it must be the immediate power of God to lay these things with any real weight and profitable influence upon the heart.

I am sorry to hear so unfavorable an account of poor Mrs. T_____. May the gracious Lord condescend to support her mind under her bodily affliction, and, above all, to give her a blessed token for good, and a sweet testimony of her interest in the love and blood of the Lamb. This may be delayed, as it was with poor Mrs. C—; but delays are not denials, and God is faithful to His promises, as well as to His own work of grace upon the heart. He will never despise the work of His own hands, but will graciously perfect that which concerns His people. And what can concern them so deeply as the salvation of their immortal soul? What are all concerns to this grand concern? If that be right, how can anything else be wrong? If that be wrong, how can anything else be right? She has lived to an advanced period of life, has no anxiety about leaving children behind her to battle with a rough, ungodly world; and her only earthly tie, besides the natural clinging to life which all have, is a kind and affectionate husband. So that if the Lord be but once pleased to smile upon her soul, and give her a testimony of His pardoning love, she may look up out of her affliction and say, “Lord, now let you your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”

You will find more and more, if your life be spared, that there will be a gradual dropping off of your members; and you may expect well-known faces gradually to disappear from the pews. But the Lord is able to give you fresh accessions, both of members and hearers, and thus fill up your number, and, it in yes be, put fresh life and feeling into your midst. May He do this if it be His will for His great name’s sake.

In speaking about the future, I feel myself compelled to do so with a great degree of hesitation. Still, it is necessary, for the sake of others as well as one’s self, to make arrangements for the coming summer. I think, then, if life be spared, and health be given, of going to London for the last three Lord’s-days in June; and in that case I would like, if spared, to come on to Allington for the first three in July. I would be glad to give you four Lord’s-days, but I fear I shall not be able, as having been so often laid aside, I feel it necessary not to be away so much from home.

Yours very affectionately,
J. C. P.

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