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06/02/2011 / Test All Things

A Letter To Joseph Tanner – May 3rd, 1861

My dear Friend, Mr. Tanner.

I have no doubt that you have been expecting for some time an answer to your kind and affectionate letter. Indeed, my own conscience has not been slow in reminding me of my neglect. But in this, as in many other instances, to will has been present with me, but how to perform that which was good I found not. You are well aware how much occupied my time is, and what a hindrance in the way of work is a weak tabernacle. Thus the combination of these two things—much to do and little strength to do it, has a great tendency to throw one’s work sadly into arrear.

I am sorry to say that just now I am laboring under one of my chest attacks which prevented me preaching here last Lord’s-day, and will prevent me preaching on the one now approaching. Still, as I am mending, I hope it may please the Lord soon to restore me to my former work. I sometimes think I will make no more engagements to go from home, as it is often a matter of uncertainty whether I shall be able to fulfill them. Still, hitherto, the Lord has helped me, and though occasionally I have been obliged to disappoint expecting friends, yet upon the whole I have been strengthened in my work far beyond all my expectations; and this encourages me not to give up until absolutely compelled. . . . I hope that our mind when we are under any sweet influence from above, is led up into higher and more blessed things than anything which time and sense can afford.

There is something very peculiar and very distinct in the operations of the blessed Spirit upon the heart. Those who know nothing of divine things by divine teaching are easily satisfied with a name to live and a mere form of godliness; but this will not and cannot satisfy any one who really possesses the life and power of God in his soul. But what different people we are– according to the influence of the flesh and the influence of the Spirit! and how we find these two principles ever opposing and conflicting one with another! But how totally different they are in their origin, nature, and end! How I look around sometimes and see how people are lost and buried in the poor vanities of this earthly scene, without perhaps one desire heavenward! How they all seem to live as if man were but like a beast whose life was forever finished when death cut the thread! How totally thoughtless about their eternal state and their fitness to stand before a holy, just, and righteous God!

On the other hand how exercised is a Christian, sometimes nearly all day long, with divine realities—sometimes up and sometimes down, sometimes full of unbelief, and sometimes able to believe with a loving heart; sometimes as dark as midnight, and sometimes favored with divine light in his soul; sometimes as dead and lifeless as though he were altogether dead in sin, and sometimes feeling the springing up of divine life like a brook. But there is one thing which I seem to see and feel, that is—how little any one, even the most highly favored, really sees or knows of the kingdom of God. No doubt in this time state very little can be really seen or known of it; but even so far as faith is privileged to enter into the things revealed in the word of truth, how little comparatively is seen, felt, and known. What deep mines of truth there are in the word of God which seem at present not broken up or brought to view, I mean so as to become coined into money for the enriching of the soul. And how we need the blessed Spirit to break up for us these rich mines, and thus to dive us an inheritance of these deep treasures!

But I am sure that we require a spiritual mind to understand and enjoy the word of God, and that is the reason why it is so little prized, believed in, and loved. We need a subjection of mind to the word of truth, what the Scripture calls the “obedience of faith,” that we may take it, in the simplicity of a childlike spirit, as our guide and rule, as our instruction and consolation, as bringing eternal realities near to our minds, and lifting us up into a vital apprehension of them. But as we attempt to do this, there ensues a conflict, so that we cannot do the things that we would. Unbelief, infidelity, reasoning objections, strong suspicions, subtle questionings, spring up in the mind; and sometimes rebellion, blasphemy, hardness of heart, and desperate enmity against what is revealed, so that in the dust of battle all believing views seem lost, and all the soul can say is, “I am full of confusion.” My friend, I believe, is no stranger to these conflicts, and no doubt finds them a maul upon the head of pride and self-righteousness, as well as giving him the tongue of the learned and enabling him to speak a word in season to him who is weary.

I do think that an unexercised minister is little else but a plague and a burden to the living family of God. The people want their exercises entered into and the work of the Spirit traced out upon their heart; and not only so, but with that life, power, and freshness which alone spring from the soul of the minister being kept alive in the path of trial and temptation. When we were together we used sometimes to exchange thoughts upon these subjects, and I believe we saw for the most part eye to eye upon them.

Illness has often been made a profitable season to my soul. The Lord knows best how to deal with us, what burdens to lay upon our back, and through what afflictions to lead us to His heavenly kingdom.

Yours very affectionately,

J. C. P.

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