February 16, 1865
My dear Friend, Joseph TannerI am truly glad that you did not repent of your journey to Croydon. It is good for those who fear God, and have some measure of spiritual union, to meet together for a little converse upon those things which belong to their everlasting peace. It is pleasing to the Lord (Mal. 3:16), and strengthening to the faith and love of those who thus meet (Rom. 1:11, 12). I would be glad indeed if you lived a little nearer, that we might from time to time communicate more freely and fully than is possible by pen and ink. This John felt (2 John 12; 2 John 13, 14), for though to communicate by pen and ink is a privilege, yet it falls far short of communication by friendly and gracious conversation. But no doubt there are wise reasons why those who fear God and feel union with each other are often deprived of Christian converse. It may be a fact through the weakness and depravity of our nature; but it does not fall in with the Gospel truth of one body and many members, and that they all are baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Cor. 12:12, 13). My eye or ear, hand or foot, would not flourish most the more distant it was from, and the less united with, the other members. But alas, many blessed truths are weakened or broken asunder by the infirmity of the flesh! Yet of one thing I am sure, that where love is deficient, there is a sad lack of every other Christian grace. "Love all defects supplies." It is sweet to feel it, and a misery to be plagued with its opposite. But I am writing a letter to a friend, not preaching a sermon or writing a meditation.
I have often thought that, though there is in our day so much strife and division, yet there is a real and close union among the living family. How many kind affectionate friends has the Lord given to me; and my desire is to walk with them in union and communion, and as far as I can, to avoid everything which may tend to separation. Next to loving the Lord and His truth, is loving His people; and how sweet it is to feel the flowings forth of love and affection to the Lord's people for His sake, and for the image of Christ which we see in them. The lack of this love in our day stamps it with one of its worst characters.
No doubt you have heard of the serious illness of our friend Mr. Grace. He has been so reduced through weakness as to be scarcely capable of thought. But upon the whole, he has been favored with a calm and sweet reliance upon the faithfulness of a covenant God, and been able to lie peaceably and passively upon those everlasting arms which are underneath. He has not now his religion to seek, but enjoys the benefit of what in past seasons he has tasted, felt, and handled of the pardoning love of God. Much prayer has been made for him by his church and his numerous friends, and much interest and affection shown on all sides. In one of the churches (Mr. Clay's) he was prayed for publicly.
But the Lord seems taking home or laying aside His ministering servants. Good old Mr. Chandler, in Kent, is upon a sick, and probably dying bed. We look around, and how few there seem to be raised up to take the place of those who have stood hitherto upon the battlements of Zion. And what sickness and affliction seem to fall to the lot of our personal friends. But of course, as we advance in life, we must expect both affliction for ourselves and for others; and if not ourselves summoned away, to see those taken from us with whom we have walked in Christian union, and taken sweet counsel together. We know not how soon it may be with us, "time no longer." I was truly sorry to read the account you give of your son's affliction. You have indeed, my dear friend, affliction upon affliction, trial upon trial, wave upon wave; but not one too many, nor too heavy, if we can but believe that they are all sent in number, weight, and measure by a kind and loving Father, and only wise God.
You will see, as I advance in the subject, what are my views of the precept. I hope they may coincide with yours, but shall be very willing to receive and consider anything that you may say where you differ from them. It is indeed a trying spot to write what so many read, and among them so many of the excellent of the earth. I see no reason why you should not put pen to paper upon those blessed truths, such as the work of the Holy Spirit, into which you seem led feelingly and experimentally. No doubt, writing is a gift as much as preaching, and practice too is requisite in order to express ideas clearly and fully. But gold is gold, whether wrought with art and skill, or roughly and inartistically. And as the roughest workmanship in gold is far more valuable than the finest workmanship in plated metal, so sound experience and gracious teaching, however roughly wrought, will ever outshine all the lacquer of mere creature eloquence when the substratum is base metal.
Yours very affectionately in the truth,
J. C. P.