To the Rev. James Stillingfleet
Yelling, Aug. 5th, 1771
Your affectionate epistle found me in due time. Many thanks are due to you for it. It found me under “great searchings of heart,” upon the point of beginning my ministry in this place. What a change, from thousands to a company of one hundred – from a people generally enlightened, and many converted, to one yet sitting in darkness, and ignorant of the first principles of the Gospel! – from a house resounding with the voice of thanksgiving, like the noise of many waters, to one where the solitary singers please themselves with empty sounds, or gratify their vanity by the imagination of their own excellence! – from a Bethel to myself and many more, to a nominal worship of the God of Christians! A change painful indeed! yet, unavoidable. With a heavy heart, therefore, did I yesterday begin to address my new hearers. I preached both morning and evening; and never to a more attentive audience; – in the afternoon, to four times the number that were ever in the church before. But, what will make you wonder, my dear friend, I spoke within the hour three minutes, both times put together! and yet I feel much hurt; and am ready to conclude I shall not long be able to speak, even in this whispering church. If I am, it appears, from the effect today, I shall not want hearers. The will of the Lord, I hope to say cheerfully, be done! Yet, of all trials I have ever known, this of having the treasure which is ordained to enrich to all eternity the souls of men, and not strength of voice to declare and to communicate it to our dear fellow-creatures, is one of the most severe. May you understand this, and be wise in time! I am persuaded we do wrong to outdo our strength. As far as it will reach and last, spare not. I would – were it lawful to wish for any thing -wish for lungs of brass, and flesh of iron, to rest not, day or night, publishing the glad tidings, saying to sinners. Behold your God!
I was sorry to hear of your disappointment. Tribulation of one kind or other is our lot. In vain do we imagine we shall escape it. I sympathize with you in the feeling of a heart desperately wicked. Once I thought some humiliating expressions of the saints of God too low for me – proud, blind wretch as I was! Now I can say, with Edwards, “Infinite upon infinite only reaches to my sinfulness!”
I thank you for your prayers. I often entreat my God to remember me according to the intercession of many of my dear friends and His dear children. Continue to do me this kindness, and to write to me frequently. I answer this the next post but one, to prove my desire of your correspondence. I shall rejoice to hear from you, and more, to see you. The Lord increase your soul in light, life, strength, and peace!
From yours, H.Venn.
From ‘Life and Letters of Henry Venn, MA’, (1835) pp. 182-183.