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11/01/2013 / Test All Things

A Letter To George Isbell – March 16th, 1848

My dear George Isbell

I am truly glad to learn that my dear mother and sister have been supported under this heavy trial and affliction; and I hope they may still find that as their day so is their strength. It is a great mercy to be supported in and under the first outbreak of trouble when the heart is too full to find relief in giving vent to its feelings. The grief afterwards may be more poignant, but is more endurable.

I think that we are warranted in indulging a good hope that our dear sister’s poor soul is at rest. Having sunk so low and been so near despair, putting away all hope, I think she would hardly have uttered the words which her nurse and husband heard, had not some divine intimation of mercy and acceptance reached her soul. There at least I wish to rest; and, indeed, have found my mind to lean upon it as a support. We might, indeed, have wished for earlier and clearer tokens, but these are not always given. We are apt to forget, or, rather, hard to believe, that salvation is all of grace from first to last; and that the Lord in all His dispensations is and will ever manifest Himself as a Sovereign.

I have often thought of the dying thief. What a display of grace! One short prayer, one believing look, one act! Oh what a mighty act of living faith upon the crucified Son of God, and his soul was fit for paradise! What a death-blow to works and work-mongers! Simeon Stylites on his pillar for thirty-seven years, and the thief on the cross—how different their religion! Of the latter I would say with Hart – “Be this religion mine.”

When I have sometimes felt my miserable carnality and earthly-mindedness, so that it has seemed impossible for me to be either going to or to be fit for heaven, I have, as it were, fallen back upon the dying thief. Where was his fitness, externally or internally? I have thus seen what grace can do by what grace has done; and I neither expect nor desire to be saved in any other way than the dying thief.

We may know, or think we know, a great deal, but really and truly in what a narrow compass does all vital religion lie?

I am tried because I am day after day the same carnal and earthly wretch. No better, no better; no, never shall be in myself anything but a poor, filthy, fallen sinner. I have long believed the doctrine of the non-sanctification of the old nature; but am now compelled to believe it whether I would or not. I might as well doubt whether ink were black or snow white, as doubt that my fallen nature is incurably corrupt. I must, therefore, ever despair of salvation from self or from anything short of the blood of the Lamb; and in teaching or preaching, dreams or doctrines, that lay the least stress on creature doings or duties, piety, or holiness, I look upon as I should a zealous defense of perpetual motion, squaring the circle, or aerial navigation.

I have attempted to speak a little here on the Oakham Lord’s-day, confining myself, however, at present to exposition and prayer. I do not think what little I have hitherto done has at all hurt me. Still I hope to move cautiously, and not to attempt too much at first. I find this cold, damp weather much against me, and I am anxiously expecting the advent of a warmer and drier season.

I wish you could got a little rest. I think when medical advisers of acknowledged skill recommend rest, it is desirable to attend to their directions. I know, indeed, that it is a trial to be silent, but you know the adage, “for lack of a nail the shoe was lost.” . . .

[The remainder of this letter is missing – but praise be to God for the portion that remains of this letter]

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