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REMARKS UPON THE NOTION OF EXTRAORDINARY IMPULSES AND IMPRESSIONS ON THE IMAGINATION.
A LETTER TO A FRIEND.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
SINCE I saw you last, I have frequently thought of you with much concern, and sincerely wish you divine support under all your trials, and direction in all your embarrassing concerns. As I make no doubt of your being a partaker of divine grace, I believe the Lord will, in the issue, bring you safely through all your troubles. Yet, if I may speak my mind freely, I am jealous over you, lest you should increase your own distresses and lessen the benefit you might receive from them, by some mistakes into which you seem in danger of falling
You remember the account you gave me of your receiving many promises from God, particularly respecting your temporal circumstances; and that you expressed the strongest confidence of their literal and punctual fulfilment.
Perhaps you will think me your enemy, should I endeavor to rob you of any part of the consolation you have derived from this
However, bear with me till you have heard me out; and I trust it will appear, that I do not wish to usurp dominion over your faith, but to be a helper of your joy.
I rejoice that you are enabled to abound in prayer, and thereby to make your request known unto God, being
desirous to cast all your care upon him, and to derive instruction and support from his word. I am fully assured, that the word of God will be found a sufficient directory, in all cases whatever ; and a source of spiritual comfort, under the greatest trials.
It is your duty and privilege to search the scriptures daily, both for direction and consolation ; and to endeavor, when you cannot have the Bible in your hand, to recollect the precepts and promises, and meditate upon them; praying that the Holy Spirit would not only assist your natural power of recollection, but more especially that he would give you a spiritual understanding of his word, and an answerable frame of heart, properly affected with the various truths therein contained.
You have reason to bless God for the suitable provision he has made in his word, which, I gladly allow, is as exactly suited to your case, as if the words had been spoken to you individually ; though blessed be God, the same word of truth is equally suited to all other believers : and you have no more cause to complain of this, than you have to complain, that while the sun warms and enlightens you, as much as if you lived alone on the earth, it affords the same benefits to millions more at the same time.
You ought to be thankful that God has given you a memory, and assists you, from time to time, to recollect suitable passages of scripture, which sometimes occur to your mind, in a very apt and seasonable manner. But, perhaps, this observation will rather displease you; and you will hardly allow that you do recollect them, but think they are immediately suggested to you from God. However, if your memory is like mine, it will be very difficult to prove this point. I have, many a time, had good things and bad suddenly occur to my mind, which at first I thought I had never read or heard before, and yet have afterwards found out where I first met with them. And, be this as it may, it is a matter of no consequence at all, whether God assists my natural faculties in recollecting his word, or immediately suggests it. The bare suggestion of words to the mind would not necessarily be accompanied with the exercise of
grace; for Balaam, and other natural men, have had wonderful things told them by God himself, and yet had no grace at all in their hearts. And, on the other hand, if my memory, or twenty other natural faculties of body or soul, were made use of, in bringing the word of God to my mind, yet if I had at the same time the real exercise of grace, I might be assured that that was owing wholly to the Spirit of God.
I therefore wish you, and all Christians, to ground your consolation not on the manner in which the promises are brought to the mind, but on the matter contained in the promises themselves. It is unsafe for persons to think themselves Christians (because they have had promises brought suddenly to their minds, as if a voice spoke them, when they did not know there were any such words in the book. The suddenness proves nothing, either one way or other; the voice is probably formed by the strength of their own imagination; and if it really came from heaven, would be no surer than the written word was before : and as to their not knowing the words were in the book, that is the worst sign of all; for it only proves they have not read their Bibles so much as they ought to have done. Whereas, suppose you were to take any one plain promise of the gospel, and read it over ten times a day, for twelve months together ; if upon the last day of the year, after reading it three thousand six hundred and fifty times, you found your mind enlightened to discern its real, original meaning, were persuaded of its certain truth, and made to embrace it as good, sincerely and earnestly desiring the enjoyment of the blessings therein contained, for the same ends for which they were promised ; and depending on the faithfulness of the promiser for the fulfilment of his gracious engagement; thus being excited to give up your heart to him; if you had felt no emotion of the kind for three thousand six hundred and forty-nine times that you had read the words before, and if at last your comfort came in ever so slowly, you might nevertheless be safely assured that it came from God.
But at this time I meant chiefly to speak of the promises of temporal blessings, of which you seemed to be so confident, that God had made them to you in particular, and would
accordingly, undoubtedly fulfil them. Now, it is a certain and comfortable truth, that " Godliness is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come.” 1 Tim.iv.8. But verily, my dear friend, I have no notion that God has made one promise of temporal blessings to you, but what is common to all believers in similar circumstances. Herein you seem to me to be in great danger of mistakes, and such as will probably lead you into other considerable errors, if they are not rectified. Christian friendship, therefore, induces me to use freedom and plainness on this head.
Before the canon of scripture was closed, God made known his will at sundry times, and in divers manners, to many of his servants, by way of immediate revelation. He made various particular events known beforehand to Abraham, and Joseph, and David, and others; and gave them promises which belonged to them exclusively; and could not be safely applied to any other. For instance, he promised to Abraham, that his seed should be as the sand of the sea for multitude ; and that all nations of the earth should be blessed in his seed, &c. He engaged that Joseph should be exalted above his brethren, and all his father's house. He foretold, that David should be himself seated on the throne of Israel; and afterwards swore unto him, that of the fruit of his loins he would raise
up the Messiah to sit upon his throne. God also made new revelations to bad men, as well as to the godly; to Pharaoh, to Balaam, to Jeroboam, to Jehu, to Ahaz, to Nebuchadnezzar, &c.
who have now the whole Bible to direct and support us, are not encouraged to expect or desire new revelations; but it is our duty to make use of the perfect revelation which God has already made, and put into our hands : and I must insist upon it, that it is so full and perfect, that you cannot need any addition to it.
The precepts of the Bible are so plain and full, that if we have but a single eye to the divine glory, they will in all cases be found a sufficient directory, as to every branch of duty. Indeed, had I ever so much grace and spiritual understanding, the Bible would not tell me what will come to pass next
year, nor even what will take place to-morrow. It will not tell me whether I shall be rich or poor in futurity; whether I shall continue in my present circumstances, or alter my outward condition within any limited period : it will not inform me whether 1 shall live long, or die soon; nor will it assist me to predict a thousand events which my curiosity would like to know. But it will do that which is ten thousand times better; it will direct me to be concerned, that whether I live, I may live to the Lord; or if I die, that I may die in the Lord ; it will teach me to acknowledge God in all my ways, and encourage me to cast all my care upon him ; it will tell me that my times are in his hands, and excite me to bless the Lord at all times. It will not absolutely inform me of what God will do, as to any
outward concerns ; but it will assure me, that if I am a Christian indeed, he will deal well with me; he will surely do me good : and it will teach me, that as I know not what is good for me, of all that is before me, I ought, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Surely it is much better for me to know what I ought to do to-day, than to know what will come to pass tomorrow, I had much rather know the duties of one hour, and have a heart to do them, than have a revelation of all the . future events of my life. Now, I am thoroughly convinced of this important truth, which I dare confidently assert and maintain, viz, that common sense, a Bible, and a right spirit, will always inform a Christian what is present duty. They will not always direct him to action, because his present duty may be patient waiting. They will not inform him, how he may certainly avoid a variety of troubles, (though they will probably assist him to escape many difficulties, with which he would otherwise meet ;) but they will teach him how to glorify God, by bearing all unavoidable troubles in a becoming manner.
Thus also the supports and consolations of the Bible will be found quite sufficient for every Christian in the sorest troubles. Place me in the worst 'situation that ever a child of God was in, and let God only enable me truly to understand, and fully to realize what he has already said in his good old revelation, and I should have support and comfort