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LETTERS AND DIALOGUES,
THERON TO ASPASIO.
New-England, Dec. 15, 1758. DEAR ASPASIO, News from your Theron, now in this remote corner of the earth, you will eagerly expect by every ship that sails from these parts. But what shall I write, O my friend ! No pleasant walks, no beautiful gardens, no romantic mounts, my dear Aspasio, nor any other theme to entertain and to amuse, must you expect from me! Alas, I have been deceived ! My hopes, once high raised, are, I think, entirely gone. As the rush without mire, and the flag without water : so the hypocrite's hope shall perish*.
As l. was walking in my garden, soon after our visit to Philenort, (which was, as I remember, about the middle of harvest, A. D. 1754,) musing on all your agreeable conversation, your fervent zeal, and how you urged me to believe. To believe what ? said I, to myself. To believe that Christ died for me. How, for me? thought I. Aspasio knows, I believe that Christ died for sinners. Yes, but he would have me apply that to my own soul; and believe Christ died for me. Aspasio knows, I believe that Christ died ; that whosoever, according to the true sense of the gospel, believes in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life. Is this believing in him? Is this justifying, saving faith? To believe I am ONE that he died for; one for whom he intended to pro
* Job viii. 11. 13. See Mr. Hervey's Dialogues, Vol. iii. p. 313. edit. i.-N. B. The first edition of Mr. Herv. Dial, is referred to in this letter ; as Theron is supposed soon after the conversation at Philenor's, to have experienced what follows. † Mr. Her vey's Dialogues, vol. iji. p. 262. VOL. 11.
cure pardon, reconciliation with God, and eternal life? Yes, this, this is faith. “A real persuasion that the blessed Jesus has shed his blood for me, and fulfilled all righteousness in my stead, that through this great atonement and glorious obedience, he has purchased, even for my sinful soul, sanctifying grace, and all spiritual blessings*.? To believe it was for me, just as if I had been mentioned by NAME : even just as my tenant believed me, when, in his last sickness, I sent a message, assuring him I had cancelled the bond, and forgiven bis debtt. And just as David believed the kingdom of Israel should be his own, on the express promise of Almighty Godt. And just as I believed my lands to be my own, by the deeds of conveyance. In a word, Aspasio would have me go to God, and say,
say, “ pardon is mine, grace is mine, Christ, and all his spiritual blessings, are mine;” not because I am conscious of sanctifying operations in my own breast, but because I am conscious I am a sinner. All these blessings being consigned over to me as such, in the everlasting gospel ; with a clearness, unquestionable as the truth, with a certainty inviolable as the oath of God. No clogging qualifications insisted on; only believe, and all is nine**, I longed to know that Christ was minett.
And could I see my title clear,
To mansions in the skies,
And wipe my weeping eyes.
But how can I see! how can I believe! Oh, my unbelieving heart! what shall I do? “ Cry to God for help,” says my Aspasio. “ Seek the blessed spirit, to testify that God has given me eternal life ; and this life is in his Son. And to witness with my spirit, that I am a child of Godfi.
Thus, as I walked, I mused; my heart was full ; I stopped, with eyes lift up to heaven, and said, I believe, Lord, help my unbelief. I thought of Calvary. I heard the soundings of his bowels, and of his mercies towards me. O thou of little faith! wherefore dost thou doubtss? Wherefore dost
* Mr. Her. Dial. vol. iï. p. 278.
† Ibid. !! p. 280. 313.
tt p. 253, 254.
# p. 309. § p. 312. ## p. 316. SS p. 276, 277.
thou doubt of my love to thee, for whom I have shed my blood ?
I believed, I was ravished; I was full of love, joy, and gratitude: and with eyes again lift up to heaven, I said, “glory be to the Holy Ghost for testifying of Christ in my heart, and appropriating this great salvation to my soul*." And thus I continued rejoicing for several days, and thought I should never doubt again.
But, oh, alas! the scene soon changed. I gradually lost a sense of my great danger, and great deliverance; as the Israelites, who sang God's praise, but soon forgat his works : or like the stony-ground hearers, who heard the word with joy, endured for a while, and fell away. Or rather like the thornyground : for, as about this time I removed into New-England, the cares of the world came in upon me, and choaked the word, and I brought forth no fruit : rather, I lost all disposition to pray or praise, and my devotions degenerated into mere formality.
And now unbelief, as I then called it, began to work. “Surely all is mere delusion,” thought I. But, again, I said, “ This is my infirmity.” And those words of Scripture were some comfort to me, O thou of little faith, wherefore dost thou. doubt? Who against hope believed in hope. Who walk in darkness and see no light, let them trust in the Lord, and stay themselves on their God. Why art thou cast down, O my soul, hope thou in Godt? And I watched and prayed, and strove against my unbelieving thoughtsI.
From this time forward, having no clear marks or signs of grace for my comfort, nor any new manifestations of the love of God to my soul, I began, as you had directed in such a case, to live by faith. I used every day to go to God, and
“Pardon is mine, grace is mine, Christ and all his spiritual blessings are mine." And thus, unconscious of any sanctifying operations in my own breast, I lived wbolly by faith : by faith, as I thought, on the promise and oath of the unchangeable JEHOVAH. And thus I continued many
Her. Dial. vol. i. p. 156.
+ p. 289.
p. 308, 309.
§ p. 313, 314,
months, generally pretty easy ; although sometimes troubled with doubts and fears.
But above a year ago, as I was reading my bible, in the 13th chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, I found the parable of the sower : which reached my case, and greatly gained the attention of my heart. Here I saw the various sorts of hearers, the different kinds of christians described ; and perceived that none are esteemed good men by our blessed Saviour, but those who, like the good ground, bring forth fruit. This startled me, this gave my faith a shock I never could get over!
However, not knowing but that I mistook the meaning of that parable, I resolved to search the Scriptures, to see if it 'were really the character of all true believers, to bring forth fruit, i. e. as I understood it, to be holy in heart and life. I began with the Gospel of St. Matthew, and read the New Testament through, and made a collection of many texts of Scripture, which I wrote down and commented upon. I will give you a specimen from my diary.
“ Nov. 20, 1757. I retired as usual to read the holy Scriptures, by which I am to be judged at the last day. I began to read Christ's sermon on the mount.
Blessed are the poor. in spirit; Blessed are they that mourn; Blessed are the meek; the pure of heart, &c. But, alas, O my soul! Í am not conscious of these good qualifications : are there not, vevertheless, blessings laid up for me? I read on to chapter vii. 19, 27. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire. By their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. This, this, O my soul, reaches my very case! this is my character! and this my doom! The following verses condemn me too. I am the man that has built his house upon the sand.” Thus far my diary.
But how discouraging soever all this appeared, yet still I maintained some secret thougths, that I was only a backslider, and should see things clearer after a while. Besides to give up my hopes, and look upon myself a poor Christless sinn.", after I had so long settled down in quiet, was like
death to my spirits. It opened a most frightful prospect before me. If not converted now, most probably I never shall be! I had as good live on in pleasing delusion, as sink down into despair !
And besides, I remembered you bad said, “ this method of seeking peace and assurance,” by signs of grace, " I fear, will embarrass the simple-minded, and cherish rather than suppress the fluctuations of doubt; for let the marks be what you please, they are all a feeble and precarious evidence.” And I wished I could boldly say, as once I did, “ pardon is mine, grace is mine, Christ and all his spiritual blessings are mine; however unconscious of sanctifying operations in my own breast*. But our blessed Saviour's words struck terror through my soul. He that heareth these words of mine and doth them not, is like a foolish man, that built his house upon the sand.
About this time I was, by a religious person well acquainted with my case, directed to Mr. Shepherd “on the parable of the ten virgins;" Mr. Edwards “ on religious affections,” Mr. Bainard's life, and some other books of the same stamp; " which, (said he,) are esteemed by pious people in New-England, as the best of books on experimental religion.” I obtained the books, I read them, they condemned not only my present state, but all my notions of religion : and represented true religion to consist in something essentially different, of which I had never had the least experience: which, instead of affording comfort and hope to my dejected mind, did but confirm my former doubts and fears. What now to do, I could not tell; here, three thousand iniles from dear Aspasio, I cannot see his face, nor have his aid. I must find out another spiritual guide ; I heard of one Paulinus, a clergyman, a noted friend to vital piety, a tender faithful guide to bewildered souls; but not in my Aspasio's scheme. My conscience said, “ Go see the man, and act an honest part; tell him all your case, be willing to know the truth.” My heart replied, “ I cannot go!
!” But as a serious, solemn sense of the eternal world was now daily growing in my heart, I was
* Herv. Dial. p. 315.