Letter XX

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

Dearly beloved sister in Jesus, the crucified and exalted Redeemer;

     I have for some days past, felt myself impelled to write something to you, regarding the present state of your soul. And although I find myself so dark and void, that I do not see what I ought to say to you, yet my mind will not be satisfied till I have done so. I will therefore obey in simplicity, hoping that God will grant me something, which may serve to strengthen and prove a blessing to you in your present affliction.

     You may rest assured of it, that I am more concerned for your soul’s advancement in true holiness, than I can express or manifest outwardly. And notwithstanding the wretched state in which you describe yourself to be, I am still quite at ease regarding it, and am under no apprehension of evil consequences. Were I concerned for you after the manner of men, and were I glad to see your own life (the life of self) preserved, I might have reason to fear; because our Lord attacks it so forcibly and severely, and pursues it so warmly, that it must very likely soon give up the ghost, which takes place and is accomplished by the complete and eternal resignation of yourself into the free hands of God.

     You see and feel nothing but sin and corruption within you, and in your conduct. Whithersoever the mind turns and directs its view, everything is misery, grief, and sin; and the way to escape from it is closed, and appears as if it were always to continue so. Ah ! thinks subtle selflove, could I only find a little nook, to which I might retire, and take a little rest, like a drowsy man, who throws himself first into one position, and then into another, without being able to sleep. Listen, O soul ! cease thy turning and twisting: the more thou seekest to make matters better, the worse thou makest them; the more thou endeavourest to perform something good of thyself, the more faults dost thou commit. There is now an end to all self-working.

     You say, you do nothing good. You ought rather to say, I do not see that I do anything good; for subtle selflove is not satisfied with the practice of virtue, but this left hand of iniquity must also know and see what the right hand doeth, in order to take pleasure therein. But God, whose intention it is to destroy this life of self, and to have our virtues pure and disinterested, does not permit the soul to reflect upon them, nor to review its virtues, either before or afterwards. The impurity alone is seen.

     Therefore, as long as it pleases God to leave you miserable, corrupt, and without strength, let it also please you. You behold your real self, at present, as you are in yourself: thank God on this account, for having disclosed your inward wound to your view. The gold is now in a state of purification; the dross appears, the gold is hidden, so that nothing but the refuse is visible. Rejoice, therefore, dear sister, that you are so wretched, and that God is so holy and so perfect. Wretchedness and nothingness is our proper station: holiness and all-sufficiency belong unto God. He that longs to see himself beautiful and holy only manifests his self-love: at least at present, it would be a fault and an imperfection. Resolve therefore, with Job, to sit quietly on the dunghill of your misery, and to love God notwithstanding. You ought, I say, to love your wretchedness, but not your sins. Say unto God, in the most thorough conviction of your depravity, “Lord, I will nevertheless not sin! Lord, I will still remain entirely thine! I resign my will unto thee for time and eternity. Let happen what may, only enable me to love thee and glorify thee!” And when you think that you have committed some sin, or really have come short, continue to say the same.

     I am not surprised at the irritableness, impatience, and anger, in particular that arise in you. Previously, when the dealings of grace with you were so lovely and gentle, nature and sense occasionally participated in it; but in the way in which you are at present, they are deprived of all inward and outward support. It is impossible that nature and sense should acquiesce in this total deprivation; they must die, and yet will not; they often know not what to do for vexation, and are ready to murmur against themselves, and everyone else, and sometimes, even against the holy ways of God, just like a dog, that bites at the stone, which is thrown at it. If you feel this or something similar in you, regard nature as such an evil brute, and say to yourself, “Let this wicked thing perish with all its rage ! what have I to do with it ? resist as long as thou wilt, thou obstinate nature, thou shalt die notwithstanding, and be destroyed !” and then leave it, and pay no attention to its fury. Possess your soul, at the same time as much as possible in patience. Do not break out too much into words, if it be any way possible to contain: nor give way immediately to desponding thoughts, such as wishing to die and the like.

     Sometimes it will occur to you, that it is impossible for you to endure it any longer; that you must give it up and return to the world; that you will certainly be lost forever, etc. But reflect for once, dear sister, have you not previously often and heartily surrendered yourself to God and his guidance? Have you not often sincerely besought him to cleanse you thoroughly from all your corruptions, and to sanctify you perfectly by such ways and means as he might find best? Have you not frequently and cordially vowed, with his assistance, to continue faithful unto him till death? What? Have you entirely forgotten all thus? Now, when God has heard your prayer, and touches you where it gives you pain, will you give up all courage, and turn back again? Is this keeping your word? Yet no ! you are no longer your own; you have given yourself to the Lord, and he has accepted you; you have nothing more to say in the disposal of yourself. Certainly, God will not suffer that which belongs to him, to be thus taken from him.

     But in opposition to this, you will say, “I feel nothing but corruption, sin, and inability. I am every instant in danger of falling and sinning, yea, methinks I sin really; the longer I live thus, the more I increase the number of my sins.” I do not believe that you sin really, that is, willfully and knowingly; for you are not so fond of sin. The view and perception of sin, causes you these bitter sufferings, and it is this alone, which so much distresses you; that is, that you see and feel nothing within you but sin, how then can you willingly practice it? But that in such a state of severe purification, we must feel so lively and forcibly, the very corruptions which had been previously cherished and obeyed with delight, so that we think nothing else, but that we really practice them, and finally, that sometimes some particular corruption will unexpectedly break out again, contrary to our will, is neither contrary to experience, nor the Holy Scriptures, which say, “wherewithall that a man sins, therewith shall he be punished.”  (Book of Wisdom 11:17, Rom. 8:3) You are also perhaps acquainted with the lines I wrote some time ago upon this subject:

I once committed sin, with pleasure and with lust;
But now must suffer sin, with sorrow and disgust;
This suffering’s wholesome; but what grievous pain,
When sin, by sin within us, is condemned and slain!

     But that you think you fall into sin every moment, arises partly from the darkness which at present covers your path; which occasions all manner of doubts, fears, and apprehensions; so that you think all kind of danger is at hand, when there is often nothing of the sort. Close your eyes to all that surrounds you; walk in faith and resignation, and fear will vanish. And when the light dawns upon you, you will say that you have walked in the right way. This fear arises also in part, from the withdrawment of all perceptible strength and support. The case is with you, as with a child that is always afraid of falling, although the mother holds it fast behind by leadingstrings, without the child’s being conscious of it: but as soon as it is in danger of stumbling or falling, it would be aware of its mother’s supporting hand. No, my dear child, there is no need to be afraid, thy mother is near, although not before thine eyes. The more you are afraid, the worse will you stumble; and when you were on the point of falling, you would be conscious of something in you, which held you back, or ordered everything outwardly in such a manner, as to keep you from stumbling. Rely upon the supporting hand of God, without seeing it, and repose upon the guidance of his divine providence, by which he will overrule all things, both internally and externally, to a good end.

     Commit yourself to God, and let your love be pure and disinterested, and so shall you be healed. Give yourself up entirely unto God, and his unlimited will, both for time and eternity. Banish all care regarding yourself, so that you would no longer look after yourself, although you knew, that by acting thus, you would sink into hell; for of what value are you ? and what is it that depends upon you? Consent to everything except to sin. If it occur to your mind, that you are at present, or may become the ridicule and scorn of all men and of evil spirits, let your will agree to it, and say, “of what value am I? I will glorify God, notwithstanding; I will love him, notwithstanding.” If the thought arise in your mind, that your wretched condition will become still more wretched; that it will continue so till death, and that you will perish eternally: consent to all this, and say, “I will nevertheless not sin, I will still love and glorify God ; what does it matter what becomes of me!” Act thus with everything that passes in your mind. In this manner, resignation will give place to a disinterested love, and your bitter and disturbed emotions, shall be changed into a soothing and profound peace, and your distressed condition into an unlimited immensity and liberty of spirit.

     Remember, that God continues God; and that he is as kind and lovely now, as when you saw and tasted his goodness. Love him, therefore, now, quite as much, and if possible, still more than before. God has many thousands, who praise him in heaven and on earth; let him then have one instance, in you, out of thousands, who praise him in hell, where you imagine yourself to be. The former do it in the enjoyment of light and delight: do you do it in the midst of darkness, and whilst hanging with Jesus on the cross, in external and internal affliction. O how beautiful, disinterested, and lovely, is the praise of God, which proceeds from the heart and lips of a suffering soul, out of whose mouth, like Job’s, nothing proceeds but “the name of the Lord be praised! The Lord is good, the Lord is gracious, he alone is the source of life! O that every creature might know and serve him! Love him, all ye righteous, in time and in eternity! O what a blessing that God is God; that he is so holy, so glorious, so blest, and so perfect as he is!”

     If, my dear sister, you have little perceptible enjoyment in this state, it is so much the purer. If you possess no clear knowledge or light from God of his perfections, there is no harm in it. You cannot, therefore, praise and love God otherwise, than as the unknown, hidden, and incomprehensible God, of whom you neither can nor ought to form any idea, how he is, or where he is; and therefore, in so doing, you act in a manner, which is the most perfect and well-pleasing in the sight of God.

     You think that your friends are unacquainted with your state, and have a better opinion of you, than the fact warrants: but this is a little temptation, and a want of simplicity of faith. Let me tell you, however, that you yourself are ignorant of your own condition, and that you have a worse idea of yourself, than the case deserves. It is not however necessary, that you know much of yourself, and of your state. It were better if you and I knew nothing more of ourselves. Judge not therefore, respecting yourself, because you are in darkness; but believe those, whom you know would not willingly flatter or deceive you, although you may suppose you feel the contrary within you, to what is told you. I know, dear sister, in some measure, what it is to have a powerful view of the holiness and purity of God, and to cherish some inward and sincere desires after holiness, and yet notwithstanding all this, to see and feel nothing in one’s self, but sin and self. 0, we ought to be ready to sink into the earth, at the sight of ourselves; and nature ought willingly to do so before God, and experience a little of the distress of those, who shall exclaim, “Rocks, fall on us, and hills hide us from the face of God, etc.”

     I know, in some degree, what it is to be acquainted with God: to know him to be so supremely excellent, beautiful, delightful, and lovely, and yet be unable to love and glorify him; but on the contrary, apparently only dishonor, offend, and act in opposition to him: to know this supremely beatifying being, and yet at the same time, to see one’s self cast so far, so very far away from him, and the enjoyment of him into misery, and sorrow, and darkness, yea, and to believe nothing else than that this will last forever, and forever become more aggravated ! The troubled mind then thinks, “O hadst thou never known God and his goodness! Hadst thou not known him to be such a God, and such an adorable being, thou wouldst now perhaps not experience such distress and torment. Thou now knowest something of his excellences, thou now longest so fervently after him, and yet must remain separated from him!”

     O the admirable wisdom of God, how lovely, yet how severe in its dealings towards those that are his! Thou allures them to thee with loving-kindness, and lettest them behold thy countenance, but soon, and before they have properly seen and enjoyed thee, thou departest, and hidest thyself with such severity! Thou woundest them with the arrows of thy love, and lettest them be forsaken in their pain! Thou liftest them up to behold the glories of heaven, and castest them afterwards down into hell; and yet thou continuest to be love itself, and desirest that thy bride should love thee, as well in hell as in paradise!

     But I see that my letter is growing longer than I intended; I will therefore only add a few short and necessary admonitions, which ought to be particularly attended to, during prayer or retirement, and in your daily walk; and with these I will conclude.

     I have already often stated my sentiments regarding the seasons of retirement. If circumstances allow, do not neglect them, either on account of your unfitness, or the repugnance of nature, or from any other consideration or temptation. Do not, however, continue too long alone at one time, unless God favors you with some particular grace and strength. Use little or no effort in prayer; for the exertion of the mental powers, would injure both the body and the mind. If you seek, by the smallest effort, to collect or elevate your mind, you will soon perceive that it will occasion irritation, anxiety, and darkness. When I said that you ought to commit yourself to God, I did not intend that this should be done by any formal act, or by much inward exertion and mental reflection; but what mean, is, that you ought to forget yourself, as much as possible, not voluntarily reflect upon your state, and the circumstances connected with it. Abstain from all care respecting yourself, and then leave yourself to God, and let your vessel sink, which is also an excellent species of prayer.

     But it is not good for you, at present, to seek God as an object, in an anxious manner in your prayers, either by means of much elevation of thought, or repeated retirement. Remain, as much as you are able, peaceful, joyful, and cheerful, at the moment. Continue as you are, and unite yourself with God, not as with something, which you have first to seek, but as with something, which you already possess; for God is certainly with you, and in you, although concealed by darkness, O that I could impart to you a peaceful and enlarged heart, both during prayer, and when not engaged in it; how serviceable would it be to you!

     If, when employed, or in company, something unexpectedly occurs, to call you to recollection, although secretly, and without unction: follow it, that moment, in childlike simplicity, if circumstances permit; or cease a moment from your work; you will experience the benefit of it: it is God’s time.

     In your walk and conversation, strive more and more to make progress in childlike simplicity, and innocence, and without reflection. Take no thought for the future, and look not at the past; both disturb, and are contrary to your present state. The present moment should be your abode, for God and his will are to be found in it alone. Generally speaking, you will scarcely ever fail, when you go to work in outward things, as it may appear to you at the time. If you look forwards or backwards, you are already involved in doubt and anxiety, and are no longer able to recognize what is the will of God. Be not scrupulous regarding works of obedience, if not in themselves sinful. All self-made choice, however good it may be, must yield to obedience.

     Do not converse much with people, unless there be a necessity. If possible, never speak as long as the influence of anger or irritation is powerfully felt. Say little or nothing regarding your sufferings to others. Let it be sufficient for you, that the Lord your God beholds your sorrows, and that his eye is upon you. You must however, account that a temptation, which would lead you to avoid the society of his children altogether, or to cease visiting me on any pretext. We are all miserable and sinful in ourselves, and it is our duty to bear one another’s burdens. You ought therefore to visit me as frequently as before, nor conceal anything that might serve to make me acquainted with your state, when it occurs to you. You give me no trouble, nor do I suffer anything on your account, that disturbs me: but if my suffering could avail you, I would, certainly, with the Lord’s assistance, not shrink from it.

     Let us become little children, nor reflect much about anything. If I had given way to reflection, I would certainly not have written this letter, and have continued altogether silent, and hid myself on account of the great poverty, wretchedness, and blindness in which I am at present: yet I have the confidence that this letter will be neither disagreeable nor hurtful to you. Be only patient and courageous, in God’s name, dear sister, in loving and in suffering; and whatever may happen, through divine grace, I am, and will remain,

     Your affectionate brother in Jesus, and companion in tribulation in Christ.

     P. S. Keep this letter to yourself, because it may be of little advantage to your friends.