To his Father [5]

OXON December 10, 1734.

DEAR SIR, -- 1. The authority of a parent and the call of Providence are things of so sacred a nature that a question in which these are any ways concerned deserves the most serious consideration. I am therefore greatly obliged to you for the pains you have taken to set ours in a clear light; which I now intend to consider more at large, with the utmost atten­tion of which I am capable. And I shall the more cheerfully do it, as being assured of your joining with me in earnestly imploring His guidance who will not suffer those that bend their wills to His to seek death in the error of their life.

2. I entirely agree that ' the glory of God and the, different degrees of promoting it are to be our sole consideration and direction in the choice of any course of life'; and consequently that it must wholly turn upon this single point, whether I am to prefer a college life or that of a rector of a parish. I do not say the glory of God is to be my first or my principal consideration, but my only one; since all that are not implied in this are absolutely of no weight: in presence of this they all vanish away; they are less than the small dust of the balance.

3. And indeed, till all other considerations were set aside, I could never come to any clear determination; till my eye was single, my whole mind was full of darkness. Every consideration distinct from this threw a shadow over all the objects I had in view, and was such a cloud as no light could penetrate. Whereas, so long as I can keep my eye single and steadily fixed on the glory of God, I have no more doubt of the way wherein I should go than of the shining of the sun at noonday.

4. That course of life tends most to the glory of God where­in we can most promote holiness in ourselves and others. I say in ourselves and others, as being fully persuaded that these can never be put asunder. For how is it possible that the good God should make our interest inconsistent with our neighbor's? that He should make our being in one state best for ourselves, and our being in another best for the Church ? This would be making a strange schism in His body; such as surely never was from the beginning of the world. And if not, then whatever state is best on either of these accounts is so on the other likewise. If it be best for others, then it is so for us; if for us, then for them.

5. However, when two ways of life are proposed, I should choose to begin with that part of the question, Which of these have I rational ground to believe will conduce most to my own improvement ? And that not only because it is every physician's concern to heal himself first, but because it seems we may judge with more ease, and perhaps certainty too, in which state we can most promote holiness in ourselves than in which we can most promote it in others.

6. By holiness I mean not fasting (as you seem to sup­pose), or bodily austerity, or any other external means of improvement, but the inward temper, to which all these are subservient, a renewal of the soul in the image of God. I mean a complex habit of lowliness, meekness, purity, faith, hope, and the love of God and man. And I therefore believe that, in the state wherein I am, I can most promote this holiness in myself, because I now enjoy several advantages which are almost peculiar to it.

7. The first of these is daily converse with my friends. I know no other place under heaven where I can have always at hand half a dozen persons nearly of my own judgment and engaged in the same studies: persons who are awakened into a full and lively conviction that they have only one work to do upon earth; who are in some measure enlightened so as to see, though at a distance, what that one work is -- viz. the recovery of that single intention and pure affection which were in Christ Jesus; who, in order to this, have according to their power renounced themselves, and wholly and absolutely devoted themselves to God; and who suitably thereto deny themselves, and take up their cross daily. To have such a number of such friends constantly watching over my soul, and according to the variety of occasions administering reproof, advice, or exhortation with all plainness and all gentleness, is a blessing I have not yet found any Christians to enjoy in any other part of the kingdom. And such a blessing it is, so conducive, if faithfully used, to the increase of all holiness, as I defy any one to know the full value of till he receives his full measure of glory.

8. Another invaluable blessing which I enjoy here in a greater degree than I could anywhere else is retirement. I have not only as much, but as little, company as I please. I have no such thing as a trifling visitant, except about an hour in a month, when I invite some of the Fellows to breakfast. Unless at that one time, no one ever takes it into his head to set foot within my door, except he has some business of import­ance to communicate to me or I to him. And even then, as soon as he has dispatched his business, he immediately takes his leave.

9. Both these blessings, the continual presence of useful and uninterrupted freedom from trifling acquaintance, are exceedingly endeared to me, whenever I have spent but one week out of this place. The far greatest part of the conversa­tion I meet with abroad, even among those whom I believe to be real Christians, turns on points that are absolutely wide of my purpose, that no way forward me in the business of life. Now, though they may have time to spare, I have none; it is absolutely necessary for such an one as me to follow, with all possible care and vigilance, that excellent advice of Mr. Herbert:

Still let thy mind be bent, still plotting where,

And when, and how the business may be done. [George Herbert's The Temple, 'The Church Porch,' stanza 57.]

And this, I bless God, I can in some measure do, so long as I avoid that bane of piety, the company of good sort of men, lukewarm Christians (as they are called), persons that have a great concern for but no sense of religion. But these under­mine insensibly all my resolutions, and quite steal from me the little fervor I have; and I never come from among these saints of the world (as J. Valdesso [Juan de Valdes (Ital. Valdesso), born about 1500 at Cuenca in Castile, labored unceasingly by tongue and pen for religious reform. In his Alfabeto Christiano he insists that the soul must choose between God and the world. He died in 1540 or 1541.] calls them) faint, dissipated, and shorn of all my strength, but I say, ' God deliver me from an half-Christian.'

10. Freedom from care I take to be the next greatest advantage to freedom from useless and therefore hurtful company. And this too I enjoy in greater perfection here than I can ever expect to do anywhere else. I hear of such a thing as the cares of this world, and I read of them, but I know them not. My income is ready for me on so many stated days, and all I have to do is to count and carry it home. The grand article of my expense is food, and this too is provided without any care of mine. I have nothing to do but at such an hour to take and eat what is prepared for me. My laun­dress, barber, &c., are always ready at quarter-day; so I have no trouble on account of those expenses. And for what I occasionally need, I can be supplied from time to time without any expense of thought. Now, to convince me what an help to holiness this is (were not my experience abundantly suffi­cient) I should need no better authority than St. Paul's: ' I would have you be without carefulness. This I speak for your own profit, that ye may attend upon the Lord' without distraction.' Happy is he that careth only for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. He may be holy both in body and spirit, after the Apostle's judgment; and I think that he had the Spirit of God.

11. To quicken me in making a thankful and diligent use of all the other advantages of this place, I have the oppor­tunity of public prayer twice a day and of weekly communi­cating. It would be easy to mention many more, and like­wise to show many disadvantages, which a person of greater courage and skill than me could scarce separate from a country life. But whatever one of experience and resolution might do, I am very sensible I should not be able to turn aside one of the thousand temptations that would immediately rush upon me. I could not stand my ground, no, not for one month, against intemperance in sleeping, eating, and drinking; against irregularity in study, against a general lukewarmness in my affections and remissness in my actions; against soft­ness and self-indulgence, directly opposite to that discipline and hardship which become a soldier of Jesus Christ. And then, when my spirit was thus dissolved, I should be an easy prey to whatever impertinent company came in my way. Then would the cares of the world and the desire of other things roll back with a full tide upon me. It would be no wonder if, while I preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. I cannot, therefore, but observe that the question does not relate barely to degrees of perfection, but to the very essence and being of it. Agitur de vita et sanguine Turni. [Virgil's Aeneid, xii. 765 (Turni de vita et sanguine certant): ‘They contend about the life and blood of Turnus.'] The point is, whether I shall or shall not work out my salva­tion, whether I shall serve Christ or Belial.

12. What still heightens my fear of this untried state is that, when I am once entered into it, be the inconveniences of it found more or less -- vestigia nulls retrorsum [‘No retracing one's steps’ (Aesop's ‘The Fox and the Sick Lion’).] -- when I am there, there I must stay. If this way of life should ever prove less advantageous, I have almost continual opportunities of quitting it; but whatever difficulties occur in that, whether foreseen or unforeseen, there is no returning, any more than from the grave. When I have once launched out into that unknown sea, there is no recovering my harbor; I must on among whatever whirlpools or rocks or sands, though all the waves and storms go over me.

13. Thus much as to myself. But you justly observe that we are not to consider ourselves alone; since God made us all for a social life, to which academical studies' are only prepara­tory. I allow, too, that He will take an exact account of every talent which He has lent us, not to bury them, but to employ every mite we have received in diffusing holiness all around us. I cannot deny that every follower of Christ is in his propor­tion the light of the world; that whoever is such can no more be concealed than the sun in the midst of heaven; that, being set as a light in a dark place, his shining out must be the more conspicuous; that to this very end was his light given, that it might shine at least to all that look towards him; and, indeed, that there is one only way of hiding it, which is to put it out. Neither can I deny that it is the indispensable duty of every Christian to impart both light and heat to all who are willing to receive it. I am obliged likewise, unless I lie against the truth, to grant that there is not so contemptible an animal upon earth as one that drones away life, without ever laboring to promote the glory of God and the good of men; and that whether he be young or old, learned or unlearned, in a college or out of it. Yet, granting the superlative degree of contempt to be on all accounts due to a college drone; a wretch that hath received ten talents, and yet employs none; that is not only promised a reward by his gracious master, but is paid beforehand for his work by his generous founder, and yet works not at all;--allowing all this, and whatever else can be said (for I own it is impossible to say enough) against the drowsy ingratitude, the lazy perjury of those who are commonly called harmless or good sort of men (a fair proportion of whom I must, to our shame, confess are to be found in colleges)--allowing this, I say, I do not apprehend it will conclude against a college life in general. For the abuse of it does not destroy the use; though there are some here who are the lumber of the creation, it does not follow that others may not be of more service to the world in this station than they could in any other.

14. That I in particular could, might, it seems, be inferred from what has been proved already -- viz. that I could be holier here myself than anywhere else if I faithfully used the bless­ings I enjoy; for, to prove that the holier any man is himself the more shall he promote holiness in others, there needs no more than this one postulatum, the help which is done on earth God does it Himself. If so, if God be the sole agent in healing souls, and man only the instrument in His hand, there can no doubt be made but that the more holy a man is He will make use of him the more: because he is more willing to be so used; because the more pure he is, he is the fitter instrument for the God of purity; because he will pray more and more earnestly that he may be employed, and that his service may tend to his Master's glory; because all his prayers, both for employ­ment and success therein, will the more surely pierce the clouds; because, the more his heart is enlarged, the wider sphere he may act in without carefulness or distraction; and, lastly, because, the more his heart is renewed in the image of God, the more God can renew it in others by him, without destroying him by pride or vanity.

15. But for the proof of every one of these weighty truths experience is worth a thousand reasons. I see, I feel them every day. Sometimes I cannot do good to others because I am unwilling to do it: shame or pain is in the way; and I do not desire to serve God at so dear a rate. Sometimes I cannot do the good I desire to do because I am in other respects too unholy. I know within myself, were I fit to be so employed, God would employ me in this work. But my heart is too unclean for such mighty works to be wrought by my hands. Sometimes I cannot accomplish the good I am employed in, because I do not pray more, and more fervently; and some­times, even when I do pray, and that instantly, because I am not worthy that my prayer should be heard. Sometimes I dare not attempt to assist my neighbor, because I know the narrowness of my heart, that it cannot attend to many things without utter confusion and dissipation of thought. And a thousand times have I been mercifully withheld from success in the things I have attempted, because, were one so proud and vain enabled to gain others, he would lose his own soul.

16. From all this I conclude that, where I am most holy myself, there I could most promote holiness in others; and consequently that I could more promote it here than in any place under heaven. But I have likewise other reasons be­sides this to think so; and the first is, the plenteousness of the harvest. Here is, indeed, a large scene of various action. Here is room for charity in all its forms. There is scarce any way of doing good to our fellow creatures for which here is not daily occasion. I can now only touch on the several heads: here are poor families to be relieved; here are children to be educated; here are workhouses wherein both young and old want, and gladly receive, the word of exhortation; here are prisons to be visited, wherein alone is a complication of all human wants; and, lastly, here are the schools of the prophets--here are tender minds to be formed and strengthened, and babes in Christ to be instructed and perfected in all useful learning. Of these in particular we must observe that he who gains only one does thereby as much service to the world as he could do in a parish in his whole life, for his name is legion; in him are contained all those who shall be converted by him. He is not a single drop of the dew of heaven, but a ' river to make glad the city of God.'

17. ‘But Epworth is yet a larger sphere of action than this; there I should have the care of two thousand souls.’ Two thousand souls ! I see not how any man living can take care of an hundred. At least I could not; I know too well quid valeant humeri. [‘How much I can bear.’] Because the weight that I have akeady upon me is almost more than I am able to bear, ought I to increase it tenfold?

Imponere Pelio Ossam

Scilicet, atque Ossae frondosum involvere Olympum. [Vigil's Georgics, i. 281-2.That is, to impose Ossa upon Pelion, and to roll leafy Olympus upon Ossa.]

Would this be the way to help either myself or my brethren up to heaven ? Nay; but the mountains I reared would only crush my own soul, and so make me utterly useless to others.

18. I need not but just glance upon several other reasons why I am more likely to be useful here than anywhere else: as, because I have the joint advice of many friends in any difficulty, and their joint encouragement in any dangers; because the good Bishop and Vice-Chancellor are at hand to supply (as need is) their want of experience; because we have the eyes of multitudes upon us, who, even without designing it, perform the most substantial office of friendship, apprising us where we have already fallen, and guarding us from falling again; lastly, because we have here a constant fund (which I believe this year will amount to near eighty pounds) to supply the bodily wants of the poor, and thereby prepare their souls to receive instruction.

19. If it be said that the love of the people at Epworth balances all these advantages here, I ask, How long will it last? Only till I come to tell them plainly that their deeds are evil, and, to make a particular application of that general sentence, to say to each, Thou art the man! Alas, sir, do I not know what love they had for you at first? And how have they used you since? Why, just as every one will be used whose business it is to bring light to them that love to sit in darkness.

20. Notwithstanding, therefore, their present prejudice in my favor, I cannot quit my first conclusion, that I am not likely to do that good anywhere, not even at Epworth, which I may do at Oxford; and yet one terrible objection lies in the way: Have you found it so in fact? What have you done there in so many years? Nay, have not the very attempts to do good, for want either of a particular turn of mind for the business you engaged in or of prudence to direct you in the right method of doing it, not only been unsuccessful, but brought such contempt upon you as has in great measure disqualified you for any future success? And are there not men in Oxford who are not only better and holier than you, but who, having preserved their reputation, who, being uni­versally esteemed, are every way fitter to promote the glory of God in that place?

21. I am not careful to answer in this matter. It is not my part to say whether God has done any good by my hands; whether I have a particular turn of mind for this or not; or whether the want of success in my past attempts was owing to want of prudence, to ignorance of the right method of acting, or to some other cause. But the latter part of the objection, that he who is despised can do no good, that without reputa­tion a man cannot be useful in the world, being the stronghold of all the unbelieving, the vainglorious, and the cowardly Christians (so called), I will, by the grace of God, see what reason that has thus continually to exalt itself against the knowledge of Christ.

22. With regard to contempt, then (under which term I include all the passions that border upon it, as hatred, envy, &c., and all the fruits that flow from them, such as calumny, reproach, and persecution in any of its forms), my first position, in defiance of worldly wisdom, is this: Every true Christian is contemned, wherever he lives, by all who are not so, and who know him to be such -- i.e. in effect, by all with whom he converses; since it is impossible for light not to shine. This position I prove both from the example of our Lord and from His express assertions. First, from His example: if the disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord, then, as our Master was despised and rejected of men, so will every one of His true disciples. But the disciple is not above his master, and therefore the consequence will not fail him an hair's breadth. Secondly, from His own express assertions of this consequence: 'If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household I ' (Matt. x. 25); ' Remember (ye that would fain forget or evade it) the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.' And as for that vain hope that this belongs only to the first followers of Christ, hear ye Him: ' All these things will they do to you, because they know not Him that sent Me'; and again, ' Because ye are not of the world, therefore the world hateth you' (John xv. 19). Both the persons who are hated, and the persons who hate them, and the cause of their hating them, are here clearly determined. The hated are all that are not of this world, that are born again in the knowledge and love of God: the haters are all that are of this world, that know not God so as to love Him with all their strength; the cause of their hatred is, the entire irreconcilable differences between their desires, judgments, and affections; --- because these know not God, and those are determined to know and pursue nothing besides Him; because these esteem and love the world, and those count it dung and dross, and singly desire that love of Christ.

23. My next position is this: Until he be thus contemned, no man is in a state of salvation. And this is no more than a plain inference from the former; for if all that are not of the world are therefore contemned by those that are, then till a man is so contemned he is of the world -- i.e. out of a state of salvation. Nor is it possible for all the trimmers between God and the world, for all the dodgers in religion, to elude this con­sequence, which God has established, and not man, unless they could prove that a man may be of the world -- i.e. void both of the knowledge and love of God--and yet be in a state of salvation. I must therefore, with or without leave of these, keep close to my Savior's judgment, and maintain that con­tempt is a part of that cross which every man must bear if he will follow Him; that it is the badge of his discipleship, the stamp of his profession, the constant seal of his calling; inso­much that, though a man may be despised without being saved, yet he cannot be saved without being despised.

24. I should not spend any more words about this great truth, but that it seems at present quite voted out of the world: the masters in Israel, learned men, men of renown, seem absolutely to have forgotten it; nay, censure those who have not forgotten the words of their Lord as setters forth of strange doctrines. And hence it is commonly asked, How can these things be? How can contempt be necessary to salvation? I answer, As it is a necessary means of purifying souls for heaven; as it is a blessed instrument of cleansing them from pride, which else would turn their very graces into poison; as it is a glorious antidote against vanity, which would other­wise pollute and destroy all their labors; as it is an excellent medicine to heal 'the anger and impatience of spirit apt to insinuate into their best employments; and, in a word, as it is one of the choicest remedies in the whole magazine of God against love of the world, in which whosoever liveth is counted dead before Him.

25. And hence (as a full answer to the preceding objection) I infer one position more: That our being contemned is absolutely necessary to our doing good in the world. If not to our doing some good (for God may work by Judas), yet to our doing so much as we otherwise should. For since God will employ those instruments most who are fittest to be employed; since, the holier a man is, the fitter instrument he is for the God of holiness; and since contempt is so glorious a means of advancing holiness in him that is exercised thereby; nay, since no man can be holy at all without it, -- who can keep off the consequence? The being contemned is absolutely necessary to a Christian's doing his full measure of good in the world. Where, then, is the scribe? where is the wise? where is the dispurer of this world? where is the replier against God with his sage maxims? 'He that is despised can do no good in the world; to be useful, a man must be esteemed; to advance the glory of God, you must have a fair reputation.' Saith the world so? But what saith the Scripture? Why, that God hath laughed all the heathen wisdom to scorn. It saith that twelve despised followers of a despised Master, all of whom were of no reputation, who were esteemed as the filth and offscouring of the world, did more good in it than all the tribes of Israel. It saith that the despised Master of these despised followers left a standing direction to us and to our children: ' Blessed are ye (not accursed with the heavy curse of doing no good; of being useless in the world,) when men shall revile you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil of you falsely for My name’s sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad; for great is your reward in heaven.'

26. These are part of my reasons for choosing to abide (till I am better informed) in the station wherein God' has placed me. As for the flock committed, to your care, whom for many years you have diligently fed with the sincere milk of the Word, I trust in God your labor shall not be in vain, either to yourself or them: many of them the great Shepherd has by your hand delivered from the hand of the destroyer; some of whom are already entered into peace, and some remain unto this day. For yourself, I doubt not, but when your warfare is accomplished, when you are made perfect through sufferings, you shall come to your grave, not with sorrow, but as a ripe shock of corn, full of years and victories. And He that took care of the poor sheep before you was born will not forget them when you are dead..'

Ended December 19, 1734.

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