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EPISTLE OF TENDER CAUTION,
STUMBLING AT THE FAULTS OF OTHERS.
It has been the work of the restless adversary of human happiness, in all ages of the world, to strive to keep man in darkness, or to bring him into it. Those who are in it, he strives to keep in it; and those who have been redeemed in some degree from it, he strives to captivate and beguile into it again : and his design in both is, to prevent the enjoyment of the sweet flowings of the love of God, and the powerful communication of the holy ghost. For he knows that these enjoyments are only witnessed in the light. He also knows the light would shine, and even prevail to the letting the soul into the full fruition of those divine enjoyments, if he did not with all his might strive to propagate the kingdom and power of darkness in and over people's minds.
Now, the stratagems he makes use of are many and diverse; one of which, and that not the least, it has been pressingly on my mind to write a few lines upon, by way of caution to such as are desirous to land safe at last, in the mansions of undisturbed felicity. I have no desire to write one word on this occasion, but what may be of use, and tend to strengthen those desires and strivings which the Lord of hosts delights in. Therefore, I desire that all prejudice may be laid aside, and my words weighed in that balance that ever is accompanied with a just weight; and tried by that ear that trieth words, as the mouth tastes meat.
The particular snare of the adversary, that my mind is engaged to guard, caution, and encourage against, is this, stumbling at the failings of others. A potent engine, a powerful instrument which prevails by satan's influence, to the weakening the faith of many. But, alas ! alas ! why will a spirit bound to eternity, stumble over the failings of flesh and blood? Why will a soul, that must finally settle accounts between God and itself, spend time, waste time, to muse and despond at the infirmities of another? The frailties of a thousand, cannot impair the unchangeable truth and righteousness of Jehovah. The hypocrisy of ten thousands cannot deprive the faithful persevering soul, of the all-sufficient assistance of the mighty God of Jacob. It is an everlasting truth, that there is a right way to serve God; and though a multitude fall on the right hand, and an host of those who have been as stars in the firmament, revolt on the left; yet the true way-faring man, though a fool, cannot err in that way wbich the Lord hath cast up for the ransomed to walk in. We are told that the dragon's tail drew a third part of the very stars from heaven. Was this told to stumble us ? Surely nay ; but still the cry is, “ Come up hither, and I will show thee the bride the Lamb's wife.” Now, the stumbler may say, “ I have strove to see the bride'; I have thought I had seen her; I have viewed her, and her beauty fades away; her brightness disappears." But, mark well! the call is, “Come up hither and I will show thee.” It is not while we stand gazing at imperfections, and reasoning upon faults, that we must expect this divine prospect. No, no. But, “ Come up bither,'and I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife.” This “come up hither,” imports something very different from that halting, lingering behind, and, as it were, sticking in the mire, which my soul has truly mourned over and lamented.
I think I am a living witness, and can testify, that there are some, who have long ago been kindly visited, and tenderly invited by the Lord, to come and see how good he is; and who have even tasted, in a degree, of the sweetness his love, who are yet far behind-hand with their day's work, are halting, doubting, and, (may it not offend them,) are feeding on the serpent's food; which was denounced by the lip of truth to be dust, and that all the days of his life. And I also declare, under a feeling sense of divine authority, that nothing better shall be the food, to all eternity, of such as spend all the days of their
lives in gazing at, or stumbling over the failings of others. But I mean not to censure. It is their immortal souls' welfare I have in view; therefore, I would call them, yea, beseech and entreat them, as they tender their own salvation, to come · away,--come away! This is not your rest. It surely is polluted. It is a land of darkness, as darkness itself. The sbadows of the evening, yea, the shadows of midnight are spread over the minds of the inhabitants threreof. Oh, sorrowful! sorrowful! that any should love to dwell in utter darkness; that any should suffer their immortal souls to be made so easy a prey to the dragon. What will it avail thee, O soul, when thou comest before the great and final tribunal, to say, such a man professed great sanctity, but was a hypocrite: therefore, I was tempted to quit the service of the living God, and serve his enemy? Or, such an one made profession of exalted piety but was a liar, a deceiver, an abominable wretch ; therefore, though I was somewhat washed, I turned to my wallowing in the mire ? This will never justify thee at the gates of heaven, nor procure thee an admittance thereinto. Oh! my soul mourns on thy account. My spirit is indeed grieved. Come, let me query with thee. Dost thou feel a daily striving to overcome evil in thyself? Art thou constantly concerned to keep up the inward watch and holy warfare? Yea, let me come closer. Whilst thou art dwelling, musing, and feeding upon the faults of others, art thou at the same time engaged, and panting after perfection in thy own soul? While thou art rehearsing to thy intimate friend, the wanderings and weaknesses of such and such, dost thou feel longing and unquenchable desires in thy mind to make war in righteousness against the power of corruption in thyself? If not, the enemy of truth, it is to be feared, may with justice challenge the praise due from thy complainings. Oh! that that eye was open in thee, that could see thyself. Oh! that thou hadst a heart to understand this mystery of iniquity. But, alas ! the adversary blinds thee. For why dost thou give back because of another's weakness, but because of thine own? Why stumblest thou at another's frailties, but because thyself art frail ? Make a pause then, and turn thy attention inward. Set a watch upon the wicket of thy soul, and keep sentinel in deep attention there: then wilt thou have enough to do, to view thy own imperfections, and to guard against them so as not to stumble others. Work enough, indeed, may be found to engage all thy care and diligence, in labouring to cease from evil, and do good thyself. It is less substantial than many a dream, to give the victory over our own souls to our enemy, because others are entangled in his spares. Shall I quit the field and turn my back in the day of battle, because a fellow soldier is treacherous, cowardly, or unfaithful, when I know my all is at stake, and if I flee I must perish? Surely nay. I ought rather to put forward with more zeal, vigilance, and constancy; endeavouring to encourage the fearful and unbelieving, as knowing the salvation of their souls, as well as my own, is at stake. Away then, thou reasoner, thou murmurer, with such pitiful musings and excuses. The day of solemn reckoning draws near. Thou must, ere long, appear before the Ancient of Days, to give an account of the deeds done in thy frail, mortal body, and to receive a reward according to thy works; not according to the stability or instability of another. Therefore, awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, that Christ may give thee light. For darkness, gross darkness, is the encircling, overshadowing canopy of thy soul. It is time for thee to hear and obey the command given to Israel of old,—to go forward; for thou (with them) hast compassed this mountain long enough ; a barren mountain, in the wide, desolate wilderness, from the top of which, it is much to be feared, thou mayst one day, or rather one night, by the arising of a strong and boisterous whirlwind, be swept off into the bottomless pit of despair, or into some quagmire, or swampy bole, where serpents, reptiles, and venomous creatures, breed and dwell. Oh! that I could persuade thee, for thy own soul's sake, to turn thy back on satan's suggestions. Oh! that thou could be prevailed upon to lift up thy heart above the world, that so thy salvation might draw nigh indeed.
Now to conclude, let me once more beseech thee to hearken to that encouraging invitation, which is sometimes sounded in the secret of thy soul, “ Come up hither, and I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife.” Come up, is here the joyful sound : and even the spirit and the bride say, come: and indeed, he that will come, may come: yea, verily, may come : and if he improves the strength given, all the powers of earth, and of the infernal hosts, cannot hinder him. For " there is no enchantment against Jacob, nor divination against Israel,” while sitting in their tents. Therefore, to thy tents, O Israel! To thy tents, O Israel! Keep inward. There thy strength lies. There is thy place of preservation. There shalt thou walk in the light of the Lord ; bis candle shall shine upon thee, and his inspeaking word shall guide thee in the way everlasting. Walking in which with fulness of peace, I desire to leave thee, and rest thy friend,