LETTERS BY JOHN ELIAS 1774-1841*
1. Growth in Grace, Assurance, Presumption
Llanfechell 31 January 1829
I send you these few lines in hope that your souls prosper, increasing daily in the knowledge of God in Christ, arid true holiness. I know that you enjoy many spiritual privileges and precious advantages, for which you should be grateful to the Lord. I am glad that you faithfully and diligently attend the means of grace, and that union and brotherly love continue among you. But, O my Friends, we need to grow more and more in grace, experimental knowledge, and every spiritual and evangelical virtue!
Be very thankful to the Lord for what He hath already done for your souls, for inclining you to hear the Gospel and to receive the benefits resulting from it, enabling you to forsake your sinful ways and ungodly companions; turning your faces towards Zion, disposing His people to give you a place among them, and keeping you there until now, when so many have turned back, or have been cast out of the church. But you that have been enabled to cleave to the Lord’s house, ye ‘are all alive this day!’ Is not this wonderful? And should you not be very thankful?
Still, there is much danger from indifference and ‘ease in Zion.’ The outward concerns of the church are now so calm, that even ‘the house on the sand’ may stand; and while the ‘mid-night cry’ is not heard, the foolish virgins may be found with the wise; and while they all slumber and sleep, it is difficult to distinguish between them. But, my dear friends, this is the time for us to examine and prove ourselves, and to labour to ascertain what we are, and what we have. As there are some that build without a rock for their foundation, and as there are virgins without oil in their vessels with their lamps, is there no danger lest we should be such? Should we not therefore frequently try ourselves by the Word of God, and see what we are, and what is our state, not in the opinion of men, but in the sight of God? Are there not many who proceed at a venture in their religion, not knowing or caring to know their real state before God? What is the religion of such? Nothing more than a feeble hope that it will be well with them in the end! Is not such a course dangerous? And is it not great loss to ourselves? If our religion is not genuine, is it not a great calamity to us to be ignorant of it, when we may obtain the truth? It will be a terrible thing to make this discovery in death and at the last judgment! To find ourselves without a rock while the house is falling! – without oil in our lamps, and the door shut against us!
On the other hand, is it not very distressing, if we have true religion, that we should be so insensible of it as to deprive ourselves of much of that calmness, comfort, joy unspeakable, pious confidence in filial nearness to God, sacred delight in meditating upon Him, and implicit confidence in Him, warm love towards Him, and a lively zeal for Him, with which true religion is accompanied? If assured of our interest in Christ, we should be more thankful to God, more courageous in facing our enemies, and more submissive under the cross; we should then be able to look forward to death with less terror, to judgment and eternity with greater pleasure. My dear friends, I will make so free with you as to exhort you to examine yourselves seriously and impartially in the following things: I desire that each may do so, as if he or she were mentioned by name, and sought to obtain thorough satisfaction to their own mind respecting this all-important subject: let each one ask himself,
1 Have I been brought to see and consider the greatness and infinite purity of God, before whom I am at all times, and to whom my heart and ways are exposed?
2 Have I seen that I am a responsible creature, bound to give an account of my thoughts, words, and actions? and that His holy law is a perfect rule for my soul and body, both in private and in public?
3 Have I believed that I fell awfully in Adam? Have I seen myself an enemy to God, and full of sin against Him? Have I seen that ‘sin is exceeding sinful’, and that I deserve the wrath of God to all eternity on its account, and that hell might have been most justly my abode for ever?
4 Have I seen that my own righteousness is nothing better than filthy rags, my own doings full of imperfections, so that I have nothing by which to merit the favour of God, forgiveness of sins and salvation?
5 Have I discovered the value of Christ as a Saviour to lost sinners? Have I been enabled to flee unto Him, like the man-slayer to the city of refuge? Am I satisfied with what He did and suffered? And am I assisted to take hold of Him, and to make use of Him, as He is made known in the Gospel? Have I tasted that the Lord is gracious? Is He precious to my soul, and is He in my estimation altogether lovely? Are His mercies sweet to my taste, like the goodly fruit of a tree? Have I given my soul into His hands to be preserved unto that day?
6 Does my soul desire to know Him more, and to love Him better, to enjoy more of His fellowship, and to be more conformable to His image?
7 Do I feel grieved on the account of the plague of my own heart, and the corruption of my nature, though I may have given myself for ever into the hands of Christ, and though I am persuaded He is able to keep me, and consequently satisfied as to my own safety? And do I long to be free from sin, that every grace may be more lively and strong in me, and that I may answer some useful purpose in the world to the glory of God?
8 Do I thirst for more intercourse with God in the means of grace? and do I find the ordinances empty without His presence?
9 Is His cause near my heart? Am I anxious to witness greater success attending the preaching of Christ crucified, and to see a greater number of sinners converted and saved?
My dear friends, if you find yourselves defective in these things, go, go immediately, where they are to be obtained. Go as needy, guilty, and lost, to Jesus, the blessed Saviour. ‘He receiveth sinners,’ and is able to save to the uttermost, supplying every want from His own fulness, and that freely. Go with boldness, go with confidence to the throne of grace, a most suitable place for a sinner who has neither merit nor goodness in himself. Go there full of misery to receive mercy, completely unworthy, to receive grace; go at all times to receive ‘grace to help in the time of need.’ Is there any want that cannot be supplied by mercy and grace? O set a great value on the throne of grace! Approach it frequently in private in your own personal case. That God may visit His church among you, cause His face to shine upon you, strengthen your grace, and increase your number, is my desire and prayer.
2. The Saving Influences of the Holy Spirit
Llanfechell 24 September 1829
I should have written to you long ago, had I not been exceedingly engaged in the great work, ever since I had the pleasure of being with you. I have visited every chapel in this Island1, forty in number, preaching and keeping societies at the same time, encouraging and urging the people to pay off the debt on their chapels; I had moreover to preach in different places on the Sabbath day; so I had no time to write even to my dearest friends.
We had a very excellent and precious Association at Pwllheli. Several of the brethren from South Wales were there, and preached very well; John Evans, of New Inn,2 W. Morris, M. Howells, D. Evans, and D. Naylor. We had a most delightful meeting in private, It was respecting the operations of the Spirit, especially His work in convincing and regenerating sinners, and uniting them to Christ.
1. Respecting Conviction. We observed that none can convince a sinner, no, not even by gifts and learning though ever so great:
it is entirely the work of the Spirit of God. Conviction consists in enlightening, teaching, and manifesting; in other words, bringing to light, shewing openly what was hid before; making sin to appear very sinful; exhibiting sin in the heart, the corrupt nature of man; shewing the demerit and punishment of sin, and that our sins are numberless and incalculable; making it evident that our state is ruined and hopeless as to anything man can do; bringing the sinner not only to assent to this view of the matter, but also to perceive that such really is his painful condition. He clearly sees that he has no ground to stand upon; his legal hopes expire, he is thoroughly awakened out of his thoughtless and indifferent frame of mind, he is brought to cry out for his life, ‘Save Lord, I perish’. O what need is there of this spirit of conviction in our preaching! The Holy Ghost continues convincing the believer whilst in this world. There is great need of this work in the church.
2. Respecting Regeneration. This is also the work of the Spirit of God; it is called, being born of the Spirit. He implants a new principle or nature in the soul of man; it is creating a new nature in all the parts and powers of the soul. It is not a notion in the head, or words on the lips, but a nature in the heart. Though the old nature is not cast out, yet it is brought down from the throne of the heart, and the new nature is placed there to reign; a light in the understanding, and obedience to God and Christ in the will, a right judgment in the conscience; a right ordering of the affections, and their delight in divine spiritual and holy objects, a retaining of them in the memory; keeping the affections and desires in due subordination. Hence follows the bitter and constant warfare of grace and corruption in the heart.
3 Respecting our union with the Lord. The soul is now united by the Spirit to Christ. We cannot say that either of these operations of the Spirit is before or after the other. There is no one, who is not regenerated, in Christ; nor any in Christ before he is born again. The regenerated is alive, and there is no spiritual life but in Christ: in Him is the fountain, yea, the beginning of the life and strength of the Christian.
I must conclude, I have no time. We enlarged greatly on the above subjects: they are much needed in the country. O that God would be pleased to pour His Holy Spirit from on high! I am very sorry that I have not more time to write to you; it was exceedingly difficult to obtain this little interval for writing the above. I salute the church in the most affectionate manner. My very kind regards to Mrs. Jones, Mrs Davies, the Preachers – Hughes, Williams, Lewis, and Cleaton; to Mr. Jones, Rosemary-lane, and his household; all the Elders; the Sunday School, the Society of the Young; Hughes, Hyso-street, and many more if I could recollect their names; also, those that are engaged in collecting money to pay the debt of the chapel. May the Lord be with all in His grace and mercy! I remain, through grace, your affectionate brother and servant.
3. Lamenting the Dead State of the Church
Fron 28 June 1831
Oh, my dear friends, be not content to live far from God! Oh, seek His face, seek Him with all your heart! Deuteronomy 4.29. Is it not evident we do not seek Him thus with the whole soul? If we sought Him so, no doubt we should find Him. Do we daily make use of Christ by faith? And pray, looking earnestly unto Jesus, for salvation? There is no acceptance of our prayers, but only through Him; and we cannot pray successfully but under the guidance of the Spirit. Oh, let us pray for the spirit of grace and supplication!
It is a dark night on the Church, the depth of winter, when she is sleepy and ready to die, and the Lord is hiding His face in the ordinances, and when only a few are crying out for His appearance, and those scarcely audible in their call! It is still more awful, if while they are asleep they should think themselves awake, and imagine that they see the sun at midnight. Yet such are the circumstances of the Church generally. Yea, the darkness of night, I say, is upon her, and she is slumbering, having lost the presence of her Lord, and so unhappy as not to know the loss she has sustained!
2Probably the New Inn of North Carmarthenshire.
*The Life and Letters of John Elias were republished by the Banner of Truth in 1973.