I think my last letter turned upon the apostle's thought, Galatians 5:I7.
"Ye cannot do the things that ye would." In the parallel place, Romans 5:19, there is another
clause subjoined, "The evil which I would not, that I do." This, added to the former,
would complete the dark side of my experience.
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Permit me to tell your Lordship a little part (for some things must not, cannot be told),
not of what I have read, but of what I have felt, in illustration of this passage. I would
not be the sport and prey of wild, vain, foolish, and worse imaginations; but this evil is
present with me: my heart is like a highway, like a city without walls or gates. Nothing
so false, so frivolous, so absurd, so impossible, or so horrid, but it can obtain access,
and that at any time, or in any place: neither the study, the pulpit, or even the Lord's
table, exempt me from their intrusion.
I sometimes compare my words to the treble of an instrument, which my thoughts accompany
with a kind of base, or rather anti-base, in which every rule of harmony is broken, every
possible combination of discord and confusion is introduced, utterly inconsistent with,
and contradictory to, the intended melody. Ah! what music would my praying and preaching
often make in the ears of the Lord of Hosts, if he listened to them as they are mine only!
By men, the upper part only (if I may so speak) is heard; and small cause there is for
self-gratification, if they should happen to commend, when conscience tells me they would
be struck with astonishment and abhorrence could they hear the whole.
But if this awful effect of heart-depravity cannot be wholly avoided in the present state
of human nature, yet, at least, I would not allow and indulge it; yet this I find I do.
In defiance of my best judgement and best wishes, I find something within me which cherishes
and cleaves to those evils, from which I ought to start and flee, as I should if a toad or
a serpent was put in my food or in my bed. Ah ! how vile must the heart (at least my heart)
be, that can hold a parley with such abominations, when I so well know their nature and
their tendency. Surely he who finds himself capable of this, may, without the least affectation
of humility (however fair his outward conduct appears), subscribe himself less than the
least of all saints, and of sinners the very chief.
I would not be influenced by a principle of self on any occasion; yet this evil I often
do. I see the baseness and absurdity of such a conduct as clearly as I see the light of
the day. I do not affect to be thought ten feet high, and I know that a desire of being
thought wise or good, is equally contrary to reason and truth. I should be grieved or angry
if my fellowcreatures supposed I had such a desire; and therefore I fear the very principle
of self, of which I complain, has a considerable share in prompting my desires to conceal
it. The pride of others often offends me, and makes me studious to hide my own; because
their good opinion of me depends much upon their not perceiving it. But the Lord knows how
this dead fly taints and spoils my best services, and makes them no better than specious
I would not indulge vain reasonings concerning the counsels, ways, and providences of God;
yet I am prone to do it. That the judge of all the earth will do right, is to me as evident
and necessary as that two and two make four. I believe that he has a sovereign right to
do what he will with his own, and that this sovereignty is but another name for the
unlimited exercise of wisdom and goodness. But my reasonings are often such, as if I had
never heard of these principles, or had formally renounced them. I feel the workings of a
presumptuous spirit that would account for everything, and venture to dispute whatever it
cannot comprehend. What an evil is this, for a potsherd of the earth to contend with its
I do not act thus towards my fellow-creatures; I do not find fault with the decisions
of a judge, or the dispositions of a general, because, though I know they are fallible,
yet I suppose they are wiser in their respective departments than myself. But I am often
ready to take this liberty when it is most unreasonable and inexcusable. I would not cleave
to a covenant of works: it should seem from the foregoing particulars, and many others which
I could mention, that I have reasons enough to deter me from this. Yet even this I do. Not
but that I say - I hope from my heart-Enter not into judgement with thy servant, O Lord.
I embrace it as a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into
the world to save sinners; and it is the main pleasure and business of my life to set forth
the necessity and all-sufficiency of the Mediator between God and man, and to make mention
of his righteousness even of his only. But here, as in everything else, I find a vast
difference between my judgment and my experience. I am invited to take the water of life
freely, yet often discouraged, because I have nothing wherewith to pay for it.
If I am at times favoured with some liberty from the above-mentioned evils, it
rather gives me a more favoumble opinion of myself, than increases my admiration of the
Lord's goodness to so unworthy a creature; and when the returning tide of my corruptions
convinces me that I am still the same, an unbelieving legal spirit would urge me to conclude
that the Lord is changed: at least, I feel a weariness of being beholden to him for such
continued multiplied forgiveness; and I fear that some part of my striving against sin,
and my desires after an increase of sanctification, arises from a secret wish that I might
not be so absolutely and entirely indebted to him.
This, my Lord, is only a faint sketch of my heart; but it is taken from the life: it would
require a volume rather than a letter to fill up the outlines. But I believe you will not
regret that I choose to say no more upon such a subject. But, though my disease is grievous,
it is not desperate; I have a gracious and infallible Physician. I shall not die, but live,
and declare the works of the Lord.
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