Letter From the East

Hebrews 13:9  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Beloved Brother,
Through the Lords mercy and goodness, I have reached home again, after an absence of two months. Both my way out and my way back were made plain before me, although there was enough of trials in detail to give exercise of faith and patience; yes, and to afford opportunity also for our gracious Lord to display His ways of grace and love, and His wonderful care that condescends to count the very hairs of our heads. If He did not send us trials by the way, could we ever know that care? Nature in us would be willing to serve, if all things were arranged so as to be agreeable, and even lead us to take some credit to ourselves from the very fact that circumstances and details all conspired to make us comfortable. It would seem to us that we were a kind of favorites with the Lord. But trials touch nature where it was not expecting, and, at least, show us what we are and our need of mercy. Satan himself knows what nature is, even in a saint, and how prone we are to use God’s blessings to foster in us a good opinion of ourselves. Hence he could say, “Doth Job fear God for naught,” &c.
I thought one night when I was lying in the hospital at Alexandria, ill with fever, that when I got a little better I should return home at once; but the next day I was better, and my desire to see the brethren in the upper country regained its force, and I was happy in committing my way again to the Lord, who graciously enabled me to resume my journey much earlier than had seemed possible at one time, and when I finally reached the upper country, I was not very strong; yet I was glad to be there, and felt that I was in my right place. It matters little how weak we are if the Lord give strength from day to day as need requires. The brethren there are united and walking in peace; and their faith and love being fresh, they are more occupied with the Lord and His grace than with themselves. May this ever continue to be true of them and of us all. For occupation with ourselves collectively will always prove in the end as fruitless of good as self-occupation is to us individually. I suppose that if we talk much about brethren either good or bad, it is because we are occupied with brethren. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” And, for my part, if I were asked to propose some very unprofitable subject, I would say, “Get occupied about ourselves collectively.” We read “that Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.” It is this that occupies the thoughts of the Father and Son, and is the object of the mission of the Holy Ghost to this earth; and our fellowship, to be true and happy, must rise to the height of God’s counsels. If we separate ourselves, even in thought, from the whole church of God, it is really a sect we are thinking about and not the church. And then we must manage the matter for ourselves as best we can, for the Holy Ghost is not here to help us to think and talk about ourselves as a sect.
I am referring to the subject rather in its practical bearing, as it affects and tests our thoughts and feelings and prayers. It is not difficult to repeat as doctrine, “The feet in a narrow path where obedience to the word ever leads; but the heart expanded by grace so as to embrace all saints in the world;” but Ο how far short of this all of us come in both its aspects! The walk gets loose, and the heart narrows accordingly. And even where there is true piety and a good zeal, the sight of abounding evil may overcome us and, like one of old, we repeat the testimony to self: “And I, even I only am left.” (1 Kings 19:1414And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. (1 Kings 19:14).) Blessed man of God as Elijah certainly was, the sight of abounding evil had filled his heart with gloom and obscured the vision of faith. He was much nearer God a few days before, on the top of C arm el, when he repaired the broken-down altar of the Lord. “And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came, saying, Israel shall be thy name.” (1 Kings 18:30, 3130And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down. 31And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came, saying, Israel shall be thy name: (1 Kings 18:30‑31).) He was in the very midst of a scene of unparalleled wickedness, but he spoke in grace to a fickle and half-hearted people, and there was a response in them, for it is said, “And all the people came near unto him.” As the apostle says, “For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace.”
Such are we all, that nothing but grace will touch and melt our hearts; and it is only as we feel our own need of it personally, that we apprehend its source and character, and can speak and act in it towards others. We see that Elijah then thought of the twelve tribes, but when He lied to Horeb he thought of himself only; and even made intercession to God against Israel. On Carmel he had power with God for others, and got fire and rain for them in answer to his prayers. But when his faith failed, his heart contracted into itself, and he instinctively betook himself where the fiery law had been issued, for that, rather than grace, was suited to the state of his gloomy heart. And let us observe well that he there neither asked nor got blessings for others, but was dealt with in a personal way, and had to hear of approaching judgment on the people which in heart he loved.
And after all, the grace of God had not exhausted itself. But the zealous prophet himself was to be set aside to make room for a successor, whose ministry was wonderfully characterized by grace.
Moses, too, the greatest of prophets, was set aside, and not allowed to complete his course, because he failed to glorify the Lord when the unthankful people forgot His presence and vexed His servant with their murmurings. He, too é forgot the Lord, and thought of himself. “Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?” He had been told to speak to the rock—a beautiful type of Christ, in unwearied grace, following His saints in the wilderness to bless them, even when they do not deserve anything but judgment. But Moses, in the vexation which arises from self-occupation, smote the rock twice with the rod. He would have government rather than grace, and so he got it; but it shut him, not Israel, out of Canaan. What a solemn warning it is to us all, especially if we occupy position as leaders to the church of God! Moses failed, as we so often do, to rise to the height of that grace which is superior to the evil it meets, and can conquer everything. How much nearer to God he was when he only thought of His goodness and glory in Exod. 32, and interceded for His forgetful and sinful people. Oh for enlargement of heart and an ever-deepening knowledge of grace and our own personal need of it. Even when judgment is at the very door, grace grows more tender and importunate. It entreats and waits for a response with a patience that never belies its own nature, for it is divine. “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.” (Hos. 11:88How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together. (Hosea 11:8).) The prophet’s expostulations in the last chapters remind us of the Lord’s weeping over the beloved city. How many tears have we shed for the church of God? Much knowledge of the truth may enable us to speak and write about it, correctly enough it may be; but love alone will cause us to weep for it.
I sometimes say to myself, if those who know the church of God doctrinally do not embrace it practically in their affections, who is there beside them to love it, and speak and pray in that wideness of heart which alone suits the subject? One knows from experience how narrow the heart is, and how impossible it is for nature in us to love naughty, disobedient saints. But God has love for such, else He never would have loved me. It is natural for us to love them who love us, or who are, at least, of our way of thinking. But the publicans can do that. And I am astonished at myself sometimes to see how much I resemble them in this respect.
I find, dear brother, that thus far in my letter I have told you very little about my recent visit. I seem to be more inclined to dwell on the reflections which have resulted from it. I believe that I always get more profit for my own soul from a visit to the saints, especially those in Egypt, where God has vouchsafed to work very remarkably. I was able to visit nine or ten assemblies, and I saw, through the Lord’s good orderings, many laboring brothers, a mutual joy to them and to me. The table was set up in one new place while I was there. It was a large christian village, into which no ray of gospel light had entered until about five months ago. A very simple laboring brother went there, and an awakening began. Some others had helped him from time to time; but he remained until some souls had got ready for fellowship. The entire village was awakened, and from two to three hundred came together night after night to hear the word. I spent three days there in company with some other laborers. There had been a little re-action on account of some of the head men of the village drawing back after they had professed conversion. The laboring brother there had been a little down on account of this; but those with me had more experience, and told him not to mind about it, that the Lord had only used those head men for a while, to encourage the others to come and hear; and now that many had got blessing, these might go their way if they preferred darkness to light.
The place of meeting—two large booths made of cornstalks—was filled while we were there, the one with men, and the other with women. A good many of these had found blessing, also some children. This, I always say, is a good sign. But females here must, like Sarah, listen to the word of the Lord “behind,” in a tent of their own. (Gen. 18:99And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent. (Genesis 18:9).) They like seclusion, nor do I see that the Lord regards them less on account of being hidden from the gaze of men. Perhaps western sisters think this a little strange. But this custom, at least, is good for laborers, who are sometimes a little spoiled by being noticed and run after by sisters. It is wholesome for us to be much in contact with men who are less governed by their feelings, and say “no” to us sometimes. Be this as it may, we had exceedingly happy meetings in our cornstalk shelters. There was the same freedom and heartiness in prayer and praise, under the Spirits guidance, which generally characterizes all their meetings in that country. And the laborers who were with me remarked how fully we were all led out in ministry of the word, three or four of us speaking every night, some to saints and others to sinners, in happiest fellowship. And as for the hearers, had we gone on till midnight, few of them would have stirred from their places, I may remark, that while the brethren distinguish between the gifts, they do not decide beforehand what character a meeting must take; except the Lord’s table which of necessity has its own character. That is, they do not say, Tonight we are to have a gospel meeting, or a prayer-meeting, or some other kind of meeting. They meet in simplicity, and pray and sing, and then what the Lord gives they accept. The older assemblies get close dealings at times, and have to spend their time in silent exercise or in crying to the Lord; at other times they are happy, and praise much; at other whiles they are more occupied with the word. They say there must be fresh guidance every time, or else there will be little edification. I have never seen two of their meetings just alike. But dependence gives deep and varied exercises, to escape which we are in temptation to fall into grooves, and drop into systems—man’s substitute for the Spirit of God.
In ministry I usually find myself led to address believers, but I should not like to feel myself bound to a particular line at a given meeting, for in the ministry to saints, I am often led to address the unconverted as far as I am able, and I do not think that the others lose anything by it. If I were an evangelist, it seems to me I should not like to feel bound to only hold gospel meetings. I do not know that there are any evangelists who act thus; but I have sometimes thought that there may be a loss by attempting to decide beforehand just what character a meeting must take; especially when we take into consideration that our evangelizing now is generally among nominal Christians, many of whom need rather to be better founded than to be called. At first it was to Jews and idolaters. Then again we are to remember that something of the pastoral gift is always manifested in a faithful evangelist. It has been observed that these two gifts may appear in the same person. And I quite believe it. Only the evangelist must be a man of God and walk with the Lord; and be characterized by a love of souls, rather than the desire of preaching. For example, the brother laboring in the place I have referred to, is rather an evangelist, but he cares for souls converted also, and had been used in both ways in some other places. But I do not think he has ever stopped to ask what he is, or whether he has any gift or not. Blessed simplicity! How near the Lord is to the simple, who are occupied with Him and His grace rather than with themselves.
He was a soldier and a policeman until two years ago. And when he got to know Christ as his portion, he began at once to seek others in grace. He could not preach what is called a sermon, and yet the Lord uses him much; and if you go where he has labored you find the proof of it, for there is fruit; and a fruitful ministry is always better than the critical acumen which can define and draw nice distinctions.
And now, dear brother, I must close this letter, already too long, I fear. The fever continued to hang about me, and occasionally returned, until I got back to the cool weather here, and then it left me. When the brethren saw how weak the poor body was, they consented to my returning this year earlier than usual. For this I was thankful, for it is happy when the Lord gives oneness of mind to those who love us and desire His glory in us; poor and feeble vessels as we are. Love to all saints with you.
Your brother in Christ, B, F, PINKERTON, Beyrout, Syria, January 30th, 1889,