Letter XVII

From A Collection of Letters by Gerhard Tersteegen (1697-1769)

Dearly beloved brother,


     In the supposition that you are still at N***, I write these few lines in haste, geeeting. May Jesus bless you! You do nothing else but look back upon yourself, which cannot fail of disturbing and dispiriting you. Had I done so, I should long ago have perished in my misery, for I am not so holy as some take me to be ; but I hold my peace, and even let them praise me to my face, lest in addition to this, they should scold me for my humility. I believe the light of truth alone, in which I secretly and simply regard myself as the most miserable of mankind, and do not defend myself when praised by others. The commission of a fault, particularly when others also knew of it, made me, formerly, as ill as it does you. Afterwards, I was directed to a cure for it, which was the valuable love of self-contempt, which, every time I used it, tranquillized and refreshed me so wonderfully, that in consequence of it, I quite forgot my disease. But this medicine should be taken courageously, and not merely tasted with the lips, otherwise it will be found much too bitter.

     I am not jesting: there is more truth in the above, than I am able to express. Looking back upon yourself injures you more than all your faults, and self-love is certainly the cause of it. But why are you so astonished at this discovery? Did you not know that you were a self-loving child of Adam, like myself and others? Ought we to be melancholy on making such a discovery, or rather ought we not to strike up a “Te Deum laudamus,”* that the Lord has granted us such a special favor, as the knowledge of ourselves? No one can more cheerfully chaunt a “Te Deum,” than he that knows and despises himself.

     You say, in your last, that the pain on account of what you have done, is still very poignant. This I do not understand. Yield yourself up in God’s name: we are not a thing that is so much worth looking at. If you cannot offer yourself up as well as you could wish, bear with yourself willingly and quietly, and sweetly turn away your inward eye from yourself, and fix it inwardly upon Him, ia whom is all jour salvation.

     We must heartily believe that we are wretched, evil, and incapable of doing any good ; yet we must not tell this to everyone, but speak of the greatness, and goodness, and blessedness of our God, and that in him, all salvation and felicity dwell. Let this be the subject on which we meditate, of which we speak and sing, and in which alone we rejoice.   Amen !

 * (Te Deum laudamus "Thee, O God, we praise") is a Latin Christian hymn written in 387 A.D. It is central to the Ambrosian hymnal, which spread throughout the Latin Church with other parts of the Milanese Rite in the 6th to 8th centuries, and it is sometimes known as "the Ambrosian Hymn" although authorship by Saint Ambrose is unlikely. The term Te Deum can also refer to a short religious service (of blessing or thanks) based upon the hymn.