Letter XXI

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

To the same

May the once crucified, but now exalted Jesus bless you!

Much loved sister in Christ.

     I have read your letter with feelings of devotion, have laid the state of your mind before God, and examined it anew. Certainly, the account you give of yourself, is a very painful one. It is enough to make human nature melancholy to read it, much more so to feel it, and that too, for any length of time. But the eye of faith views things in a different light to that of nature and reason; it beholds a glory in Jesus quite as great, if not greater, whilst hanging on the accursed tree, on the hill of Calvary, scoffed at, naked, and forsaken by all, as when he stood transformed on Mount Tabor; and such is also the case with all his true members and followers.


     It would carry me to too great a length, and methinks it is unnecessary to reply to everything you mention regarding your state. Speaking generally, I would only say, that the more you make me acquainted with your state, the more confirmed I am in the opinion, that all these very painful sufferings are assuredly the dealings of God with your soul, to unfold the deep depravity of your heart, and to mortify the most secret remains of a life of self. We do not know ourselves in seasons of relish and enjoyment; the cross must discover to us, what we are.  O how firmly and deeply rooted, are the subtle unbrokenness of the will, the confidence in our own works and ability, complacency in the virtues and graces, with which the Lord favors us, and such like selfish principles in the heart! It is true, that in the beginning, the Lord overlooks much of this kind of impurity in his weak children; but when he sees that it is time, and that the soul is sufficiently resolute and established in grace and knowledge, he then begins to press the matter out of the wound, and touches the poor soul, just where it gives her pain. The soul is then attacked by very severe and gross temptations and sins, in order that the subtle principles of self, which are still concealed, may be brought to light, and entirely eradicated.


     It is no wonder, beloved sister, that all that is within you, stands amazed at this strange and uncommon procedure, in which, instead of that purity of heart you so ardently longed for, you are conscious of nothing but corruptions and abominations, both inwardly and outwardly. O, you cannot be at all easy at seeing yourself so wretched! You would gladly be entirely pure and holy, and yet you must see and feel yourself entirely the reverse. Only be content with your wretchedness, and shut your eyes against yourself; God will sanctify you assuredly, but in such a manner, that you shall not see your holiness, lest you exalt yourself on account of it.

     There is still something concealed within you, that seeks to help and excuse itself, frequently without your knowledge. When you then look around, and behold yourself wretched, faint, desperate in every point, and shut up on all sides: either a violent feeling of discontent and irritation is excited, or else of profound dejection and melancholy, both of which are injurious and painful. I am also well aware that it sometimes happens, that all your sorrow and suffering, with all its vexations, and apparently dangerous concomitants, its intolerableness, and wearisomeness, places itself, as in a moment, in the most lively and susceptible manner before your eyes, by which your affliction and distress increases to the highest pitch, so that it seems no longer supportable. This is something which proceeds from the Lord; for which reason, the soul ought to be passive under it: for when suffering is thus at its greatest height, and the poor soul is driven to extremity, even then the most thorough and magnanimous surrender of ourselves may be exercised; namely, when the soul, in the deepest resignation, sinks into death, and gives itself up eternally to the unlimited good pleasure of God, which is the very way to obtain rest, into which we enter, by forsaking ourselves, and giving ourselves up to God, who is the sole rest of our spirits.

     The Lord himself, the faithful guide of your soul, will find means to lead you out of yourself and into him, through death, into eternal life, through the strait gate, into unlimited freedom, out of the most miserable dungeon, into the most delightful liberty of spirit. Do but let the Lord work; he will accomplish what he has begun. Let your enemies alone also, and regard not their rage: without divine permission, they can do nothing to you. The combined powers of hell cannot compel you to consent to a single sin. Temptations and sins of every kind may approach and surround you, as much as they will, but as long as you remain in a state of passive and resigned mortification, you may walk unconsumed in the midst of the flames. I believe and am aware, that you commit many faults, particularly such as you are not conscious of until afterwards; but do not trouble yourself too much about them: it is not your intention to sin; when therefore you really sin, or think you do so, recant it, and commit yourself to God anew. I believe that almost every error in this state, arises from a departure from resignation.

     God occasionally gives you grace to surrender yourself entirely to him; and although this be only at intervals, and for a short time, yet the mind perceives the benefit of it; a proof that you can be cured only in this way.

     When we cease to care and labor, then God begins, and will be all in our nothingness. May he himself completely work this happy death in both of us, and grant that we may lose ourselves in him, in such a manner, as that we may never find ourselves again in ourselves!

     All you have to do, is, (as you mention,) continually to regard yourself as a sacrifice to the justice and love of God, which kills and consumes all the life of self in you, without mercy. Abraham really thought, that his beloved son Isaac must suffer, and was obliged to consent to it; but God would only have Isaac offered, and the ram burnt. And thus the Lord knows how to preserve that, which is his own in you; everything, however, must be offered up; life and health, body and soul, enjoyment, relish, gifts, and virtues, and even the darling image of holiness itself.

     I say you are a sacrifice to the justice and love of God, and not to his wrath; it shall not come upon you, as you sometimes write. The wrath of God, properly speaking, is only poured out upon the wicked: it is his justice, mingled with love that purifies his children. The beloved parent is not angry with his poor helpless infants; for it is thus that we are described in the prophet Ezekiel (16:5, 6). Refer to the passage, and see if that can be called anger.

     Possess yourself, as much as possible in patience. The bitter cup of affliction will soon be drunk up. You please God, when you suffer for his sake. Is not this a sufficient reason to fortify you in patience? Yes, I thank God, with my whole heart, that he has called you, and deigned to take you so strictly into his correction, in order that through suffering, he may perfect you in true holiness. Yes, I thank him also, with inward satisfaction, for all that grace, which he manifests towards you in this state, so that in the midst of temptation and suffering, you still hate sin, and love holiness; that you inwardly desire not to draw back from the cross; that you love his good pleasure, praise his goodness; and that, finally, you place your highest consolation in this, that God may be loved and glorified in you and in others, although, as you say, every drop of your blood should be consumed by it. If this desire be really in you, so as you express yourself, and as I also believe is the case, thank the Lord for it with me, and boldly believe, that flesh and blood have not imparted it to you. God is glorified in you, even now, in your humiliation; and will glorify himself, in future, still more, both in time and eternity.

     With this, therefore, I will conclude, and resign you into the Lord’s faithful hands. What else might have been added, is already said in my former letter. In other respects, this state does not admit of enjoining or observing many rules; and if I sometimes give any particular directions, you must not anxiously bind yourself to them, nor revolve them much in your mind. God himself will work and remind you, every moment, of what is wellpleasing in his sight. He will not forsake you, his disconsolate child, though all the world were to do so.

     As for myself, I am obliged, and sufficiently inclined to serve you, how and when I can, according to the ability which the Lord grants; even as one child gives its hand to another. But as the light and grace of God, with respect to the inward way, is less powerful in me, than you and others suppose, I would not readily advise any one to follow my instructions further, than he himself may believe them to be the will of God, and of advantage to him. God will give us grace to be mindful of each other.

     Be of good courage, my sister, and love Jesus and his cross, in whom I am,

Your affectionate fellow-laborer and brother.