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MR. WM. BARLASS TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON.
YOU will no doubt be surprised to find an obscure stranger, living in another nation, addressing you. That you may no longer be in suspense, I shall so far invert the usual order of epistles, as to tell you here, that I am a student belonging to the Antiburgher Synod in Scotland. It may indeed appear rashness and presumption, for one so very mean and unworthy as I am, to trouble you, who already are, no doubt, encumbered with a very large circle of correspondents, and these, men moving in far higher spheres, of greatly superior abilities, and exceedingly more deserving of your regard. But I beg leave to assure you, that nothing but the very high esteem and regard which I entertain for you would have ever suggested the thought of writing you, and nothing but the modest humble spirit which breathes in your writings could have prevailed upon me to execute my purpose. This convinces me that at least you will not be displeased. I am persuaded, that you very sincerely love all those who love our Lord Jesus, without any undue respect to the party with which they are connected, the station of life in which Divine Providence has placed them, or that corner of the world where their lot is fallen.
Do you inquire what is the occasion of my writing you? I can only say, that it is to testify the very great esteem I have for you as an instrument in God's hand of reviving his truth, when so generally despised by a self-wise and blind generation; and humbly, though very earnestly, beseech you to proceed as far as possible in your writings. I have not the least doubt but God is blessing your ministerial labours in that plot of his vineyard where he has fixed your residence; but I hope his blessing will by no means be confined to it, but will diffuse itself about wherever your works go. God appoints certain bounds to books as well as men. A great man having wrote, in our country, in defence of the truth, at the dawn
of the Reformation, the people urged to preach the same doctrine publicly Sir, said they, we cannot all read your writings, but we can all hear your preaching. With respect to you, Sir, this I must nvert; We cannot all hear your discourses from the pulpit, but when published we can read them in our own closet. You are not, I perceive, so fond of books yourself as many good men have been. You delight too much in the pure fountain, the law of the Lord, to be greatly enamoured with the streams which are often tinged with the mud of human imperfections. But you well know, Sir, that it is not the happiness of every one to see so far and so clearly into the word of God, at first view, as you do. The Lord has various ways of bringing his people to the knowledge and love of the truth. Some he teaches more immediately by the word itself: some by the opening and applying of it in the preaching of the Gospel; others by the writings of holy and learned men leading them back to the Scriptures, the great source of all that is truly valuable in such labours. The Bible is the delight and joy of every true believer. It is the grand medium whereby God communicates light, life, strength, and consolation to his people. But, according to his adorable sovereignty, God takes one by the hand himself, and leads him into those green pastures, while he uses the preaching, conversation, or writings of his servants as the more immediate means of leading another into the same field.
Do you ask, why I am so desirous to see more of your writings? It is because I hope they will be of the same kind, if not still more excellent, than those which have already appeared. In those already published, there is that conformity to the sacred oracles in the sentiment, that ease and simplicity in the manner, and that agreeable variety in the subjects treated, which will render them generally acceptable, and generally useful among those who are not ashamed of the simplicity and plainness of the Gospel: and I hope God will not suffer them to be without effect, even on those who are yet strangers, and so enemies to the doctrines of grace. The experience of thousands now in glory can attest the utility of human writings, when, like yours, all their beauty, force, and value flow from the great original, the Scriptures.
The more I read, the more I admire every thing of yours, which has yet come to my hand. Your writings are free of those noxious qualities which too often spoil the labours of otherwise very emi
nent Divines. No affected warmth, no lumber of cold, uninteresting digressions, no subtile, unintelligible intricacies, no pomp of unmeaning words, no parade of human learning, no ill-natured reflections, no violent party spirit, tarnish your page. It is a mixture of these which renders the writings of some, much versant in the Scriptures, very unlike that pattern after which they should copy. Even persons enlightened by the Divine Spirit are subject to these One thing I highly esteem in you is, that, while you keep off the rock of a narrow spirit, and its never-failing attendant, a contentious disproportionate zeal, you do not, as most men in this age, split on the opposite one, a lukewarm indifference for the truths of the Gospel. I cannot, on any account, like their spirit, who, under pretence of candour and charity, (things much cried up, but little known, and far less practised) would jumble all professing Christians into one mass. ss. Were this the case, I am afraid this huge lump would contain so much corrupt leaven as soon to infect the whole. Neither is their conduct to be commended, who, though they attach themselves to that party which they think purest, yet are so excessively cautious, or unreasonably timid, as either to comply with unpalatable doctrines, or else utter their mind with such diffidence and ambiguity as rather injures than promotes the cause of truth. Men of this stamp are surely ashamed, in part at least, of Christ's Gospel; and are too fond of the praise of men. Does God clothe his servants with power and might to whisper in such a soft, ambiguous tone as will please every body? By no means; but that they may lift up their voice like a trumpet, and boldly declare truth and error, sin and duty. There is, sure, the greatest consistency between contending earnestly for the faith, and yet possessing that meek, calm, heavenly temper which is at once an ornament to, and certain evidence of, genuine Christianity. It is indeed difficult for us, who are so weak and so ready to be tossed to extremes, to prevent our zeal rising to anger and fury, or, on the other hand, degenerating into indifference. Nay: it is absolutely impossible for us to keep in such a narrow path. A Divine hand only can preserve us in it. The greatest men whom God has raised up in his church have been, in every age, varying to one or other of these extremes. Happy would it be for us, if, by their example, we could learn to trust to the Lord, and not lean to our own understanding!
I know, from the peculiar modesty which I discern in you, that you will think I speak too highly of your works. I do frankly acknowledge that I never was so fond of, and perhaps never profited so much from, any human compositions as yours. In every case I detest flattery, and would not, durst not use it with you. But I am not afraid to speak as I have done, because I well know you will ascribe all the glory to its due Author, and abhor the very thought of sharing the least degree of it with him. We all hold of Christ, who distributes at his pleasure. Some believers long ago glorified God in Paul; I and others surely may warrantably glorify him in you. Much sin has been forgiven you; many deliverances have been wrought for you; great grace has been bestowed on you; and I hope great and remarkable will be the advantage which the church of God shall reap from your labours of love. God has not done so great things for you for nought, in bringing you through such dangers, and turning you from such Atheism to such a settled faith in that record which God has given of his Son. He no doubt designed you to be a living and very visible instance of free, sovereign, distinguishing grace, and therefore a warm, zealous defender of those doctrines which are calculated to exalt the Saviour, humble the sinner, and so lay a foundation for true Gospel holiYou have the word of God verified and explained in your own experience, and may justly say what we have heard and learned from the infallible oracles; what we have also clearly seen and felt in our own soul, that declare we unto you. Luther very often insists on it as one great leading cause why his adversaries could not understand the doctrines of the Gospel, that they had never felt them verified in their own experience. I have often observed a remarkable coincidence of sentiments between you and him, though your mode of expression differs very much from his. He seems to have obtained the greatest and best part of his learning in the school of experience, and in this I suppose you pretty much resemble him. If he was a great deal rougher in his language, the times in which he lived needed (as one of his cotemporaries observed) a severe and sharp physician.
I am sorry your works are as yet so little known in our country I hope, however, they will not be long so. I have ever since I was acquainted with them, used all my influence in getting them read; and have recommended them to all my acquaintances. A number