Letter XXIII

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

Beloved brethren, sisters, and friends, in the grace of
God, whose names, I pray, may be found written in
the book of life.


     In compliance with your repeated requests, I would gladly have visited you in person, that with the divine blessing, we might have been enabled to strengthen and edify one another in our vocation and faith, and rejoice in all the blessings we possess in Jesus, our blessed and supreme head, God blessed forever. But as the providence of God does not at present permit this, I take the liberty of affectionately saluting you, through this medium, and heartily wish you all increase and establishment in the grace of God. Your love and the remembrance of you, as far as I became acquainted with you, during my last visit, has often refreshed me, and at the same time impelled me to offer up your souls to the author and finisher of faith, and to commit you to his superintendence and gracious influences, in order that none may remain behind; but that every one, according to his measure, may make progress towards the prize of our high calling of fellowship with God in the spirit. In this sense, may the Lord unite us, more and more fully, as in one heart and soul, in the sweet love of Jesus!

     O what an unspeakable mercy of God it is, when we not only feel within us the vocation of grace, but also cordially give place to it; when we are impressively convinced of our miserable and fallen state by nature; when we sincerely feel the burden of our sins, and are thus driven, by inward distress and grief, to Jesus; when we perceive, in a lively manner, the great necessity of a change, an universal and thorough change; and when, at length, we take a humble and sincere resolution irrevocably to offer ourselves, with body and soul, to the Lord Jesus and his service, and to follow him in the narrow path of self-denial and the cross, determined also, willingly to bear the hatred and contempt of the world, and the enmity of the devil, on account of it. Happy moment, when such a feeling and determination arises in the soul! In estimable grace, which is more to be esteemed than all the deceitful riches and pleasures of the world! But here keep firm footing, my dearly beloved, who have experienced the happy hour, in which you have sincerely given your word to Jesus.

     When an awakening takes place anywhere, persons are easily carried along with the stream; the novelty of the thing touches the senses, and the individual also feels affected; nay, the grace of God gladly avails itself of such opportunities to get the soul into the gospel net; but now let everyone pay attention, that it be not a fire of stubble, which burns within him, but a flame of the Lord, which is not easily again extinguished. The first resolution is soon taken: but after the primary effervescence has a little subsided, the individual is put to tests, in which, foresight, courage, and divine grace are necessary.

     When he comes again amongst worldly-minded people, who have already heard that he intends to become religious, or more serious than he was before; what astonishment is expressed ! what apparently faithful cautions; what seemingly reasonable arguments and sophistry then assault the weak mind! If he then gives only a little heed to the serpent, considers over the matter in himself, with his carnal reason, he is immediately weakened and overcome. It afterwards seems to him very probable that such is the case; that there is no need of making such a noise about it, nor of injuring ourselves with others: that running hither and thither is of little avail; that it often occasions more distraction than edification; that we can quietly serve God, without identifying ourselves so much with the hated people; that there is also much strange fire and dissimulation amongst them; and that they are not all so holy as they outwardly seem to be; that it is not altogether possible to live in such a manner, etc. beware, beware, ye that love your souls, of thus conferring with flesh and blood, and of refusing him, who speaks quite other things to you by his word, and by the teachings of his grace in your hearts, but continue in that which you have heard and known from the beginning!

    How many receive the word of the gospel with joy, who afterwards let their courage fail, when they see their enemies, and feel, that not only hearing and speaking belong to godliness, but also doing and denying: who regard as beautiful the gospel pearl, Jesus and his blessings: but stop short, or turnabout, when they learn that they must sell all in order to obtain it. O my dear friends, stand firm, and do not let your courage sink ! the Lord is with us; a soul, a Jesus, an eternity, certainly is worthy of some little labor.

     How many let their courage fail, when they see, that Jesus not only distributes bread and wine, but crosses also. As long as the first sensible emotion lasts, the individual is zealous, and would even go to death with Jesus. But if the Lord, in his wise dispensations, withdraws the milk of sensible consolation and sweetness, and lets the soul continue for a while in barrenness and darkness, that he may try the fidelity of her love, and establish her the more firmly in self-knowledge and humility; the man is then ready to despond and complain, or even to seek comfort elsewhere. O my brethren, do not sink, do not faint; be strong, and wait for the Lord ; for no eye hath seen, nor ear heard, nor has it ever occurred to any unenlightened human heart, what God has prepared for those that wait for him.

     If you will not be deceived nor led astray from the path of life: it is necessary to cleave, with me, in faith unto him, who has called us. He has inwardly prevented us in our hearts, with his dear and gracious vocation, by reproof, by impressions, by excitements, by light, and love, and life; every one according to his state and measure; to this we must cleave, in all simplicity, if we are desirous of continuing firm, and making advancement in grace. Multifarious reflections, speculations, and the activity of the understanding, as well as distraction in the senses, and outward multiplicity, lead us violently away from our inward center; we must, therefore avoid them as much as possible. There is nothing, either in heaven or earth, either in us or out of us, that can so thoroughly heal, sanctify, and satisfy us, as the love and grace of God, manifested in Christ Jesus. It is this, which thus inwardly meets us, in our hearts, with its salutary influences. Now if we adhere to this, in a devout and introverted frame, often presenting, in childlike sincerity, our whole and inmost heart, open and naked, to this discerning and healing light of life, and seek after every aberration, to return, with our hunger and devotion, again into our heart, as the scripture speaks, (Isaiah 50: 4 ) we shall not only continue preserved from all going astray, but we shall all grow up in all things unto him who is our head, Christ Jesus, and experience, more and more, the unsearchable riches of his strength and grace in his saints.

     For we must not fall into the foolish idea, that we can attain to complete regeneration at once, and re-enter paradise, as it were, by a single leap; by no means. The waving sword of the cherub, (I mean the word of God, which is quick and powerful, Heb. 4) has much to hew and cut off, which can never enter into the kingdom of God; this is not accomplished in one day, nor even generally speaking, in one year. Therefore a continual growth and progress, certainly belong to Christians, and the degrees of grace, are very different in those that are called. A Christian that retains his previous habits and infirmities, and remains in the same state, from one year to another, has great cause to reflect maturely upon his state, whether he be not perhaps a tree without life, or a branch, which abideth not in the vine. For this is the very reason why so little growth in sanctification is perceptible in awakened souls, in the present day. The individual does not abide in Christ, in the manner above-mentioned, nor accustom himself sufficiently, to the true prayer of the heart, as to believe that God is inwardly near him, in his heart, to cleave unto him in a childlike manner, to possess, in a meek and quiet spirit, his affectionate converse and intercourse, to wait for his gracious operation and attraction, attend to it, and give place to it, to adhere to him most cordially, and as a child from its mother’s breast, receive grace for grace. This ought to be our daily work, yea, our chief employment; but because it is neglected, the individual does not properly attain to the power of the new covenant, in which God writes his laws in the heart, nor to an experimental acquaintance, with God, his riches, and his truth.

     O my dearest friends, let us apply ourselves more diligently to this delightful exercise of prayer; for we cannot exist a single moment of ourselves! What are all our virtues, and all our piety, unless fellowship with Jesus lay at the bottom of it? It is all only a form, without power; a shadow, without substance. All our faults and falls proceed from our not abiding with Christ within; nay, we even commit many, without perceiving them; because we are not in the light. We often think we are walking purely and sincerely, whilst, if we came nearer to our hearts, and to the Lord within them, we should soon perceive, that we did not stand complete before the Lord. Innumerable selfish motives, and the whole inward mystery of wickedness, continues concealed from the eyes of many, until death, to their great dismay at that hour, only because they do not seek to lead a retired life in the presence of God. Nay, the most precious, and most essential operations and communications of God in our hearts, are not experienced, nor the most divine truths vitally known, because we do not sufficiently continue there, where alone they can be known and enjoyed. O how much is this to be lamented, seeing that such great and precious promises are given us in Christ, that even, during this life, we may become partakers of the divine nature, by the inward acquaintance with him, who has called us to this glory. (2 Peter 1)

     Therefore, my fellow-called, if we are desirous of being thoroughly redeemed and sanctified, and of living peacefully, and dying happily, we must become inhabitants of our own hearts, and fellow-inmates with God. Jesus has opened to us this new and living way in his blood, so that eternal love, with its attractions and influences, can now approach very near to us, and we can draw near unto

     God in our hearts, (with childlike confidence,) without reference to our misery and unworthiness. Let us then draw near, (Heb. 10: 22.) and freely use this invaluable privilege. Let us accustom ourselves, the whole day long, and even whilst in business, to the Lord’s presence, and seek, in simple faith, to make ourselves known, and intimate with him in our hearts; but we must by no means regard as superfluous, a frequent seclusion in sacred abstraction, in order to this sweet and prayerful exercise of recollection, and retiring to God in our hearts. We shall then more and more essentially experience how the Lord will meet us with the tender attractions of his love, seeing that he unceasingly waits and knocks at the door of our hearts; and we shall experience, that it is his delight to dwell with the children of men: “Come and see!”

     But think not, that, by this, we would dissuade you from the use of the outward means of grace ; by no means ! Rather would we take occasion to remind you, not to despise or lightly esteem any one good action or manuduction from self-love, pride, or excessive prudence. We must love and esteem every good thing, which is able to lead and assist us to the attainment of the supreme good. Only we must use everything in due order and measure, and not attach too much importance to it, much less remain cleaving to anything, that is not God himself; otherwise that, which is in itself, a good and innocent means, would certainly become an obstacle, and cause detention in the attainment of that, which is alone needful. God has regulated all outward things for the sake of the inward; nay, he himself, so to speak, became external in Christ, in order that he might call his creatures, who have wandered outwards, to that which is within, and there be truly near unto us. We ought therefore also to keep in mind this kind and salutary object, which God has in view; and in the use of all outward means, diligently attend to our hearts, waiting for the first impressions of divine grace, and how it opens and affects the heart, in order that we may submit ourselves to it, in filial obedience ; and thus, both by the Holy Scriptures, as well as by other good instructions, we may come to Christ himself, that so we may have life in his name.

     Prove, by grace, in all things, that which is the best; and do not spend the short time and the noble, powers of grace in unnecessary things, of a secondary nature. Be not so tenacious of your money, as of your time, and the grace entrusted to you. Let us go directly to the mark; it will soon be evening with us. One thing is needful, which is, that we die to ourselves and every creature, and live unto God, in spirit and in truth. It is this, which both Scripture and grace in the heart demands of us; and it is this, in which alone we can find health and peace, both living and dying. With this we have enough to exercise, to suffer, and to experience; he that has attained to it, may do what he pleases, if he has any time to spare, or desire for pleasure.

     Avoid all unnecessary intercourse with the men of this world, lest time be stolen from you, and lest you yourselves be polluted and carried away. The most dangerous kind are those, who make great pretensions to reason; particularly those that are Christians only in name and appearance, and who do not act, directly and sincerely, according to their previous calling; for such have, as it were, truly studied every specious pretense, by which they might render void, the strict, simple, and inward life in Christ, and seduce unstable minds.

     Suffer not the hope of your calling to be darkened in any measure, by anything of an extraordinary nature, nor by the powers and operations of strange spirits, which, under an imposing and peculiar appearance, might present themselves to the senses and self-love. Whenever such like temptations have confused any individuals, look at the result, and how the tree is known by its fruits. A holy foresight is necessary with regard to all that strikes the senses, all that is peculiar, and all that has an imposing appearance.

     Suffer not yourselves to be detached from simplicity in Christ, by any pretense of superior knowledge and wisdom. Nature seeks room, and resists close confinement; it is easier for her to amuse herself with ideas, than to suffer and die. The poor and simple life of Jesus is offensive to scornful reason; which sophisticates, until it has found a convenient middle way, which just terminates in a point with the broad way. With respect to us, let us be affectionate children; dying, praying, and loving shall be our wisdom. Let reason scorn us as long as she pleases; we shall see who fares the most peaceably, and to whom the heavenly Father will reveal his mysteries.

     O yes, my dear friends ! we ought to become such children of grace, and as such, we ought to love one another purely and cordially. If we only detach ourselves more and more from all secondary things and notions, and exercise ourselves in that, which is alone needful; how we may be truly faithful to the vocation of grace, in dying to the world and all false life, and remaining near to God, in simplicity of heart; our spirits will then flow together, at of themselves, in delightful unanimity and unity. In this way, eternal love would delight to dwell amongst us, and to bless us, as the dew that falls from Hermon upon the mountains of Zion; and we should ever more deeply experience the unknown blessings, which are to be enjoyed in the true fellowship of the saints. Seeing that we have cast out the world, and the world has cast us out, let us therefore give each other the hand; and as true strangers and pilgrims, brotherly and courageously go forward, in one mind and spirit, to the happy land of inward and eternal fellowship with God in Christ Jesus. 

Faithful is he that hath called us, who also will do it!

In him I remain, through grace, etc.

Muhlheim, 30th September, 1734.