A Letter to Miss Catherine Sinclair, October 1817
Reprinted by Sowers Seed Reprints
MY DEAR CATHERINE,
There are few things which have afforded me more satisfaction, than the manner in which you, and your brothers and sisters, have uniformly received the instructions which I have attempted to give you on the subject of religion. The attention with which you have listened to me, the candour you have shown in appreciating my motives, and the good humour with which you have taken any thing I may have said to you in the way of reproof, shall ever be remembered by me with affectionate gratitude.
You expressed, some days ago, a wish that I would put down in writing the substance of some of those conversations which have Passed between us on this most important subject; and with this request I shall most readily comply. It could only proceed, on your part, from a sincere desire of farther instruction; and though I am deeply conscious of my own inability to write on such a subject, as I could wish, yet, as I can with truth say, that before I took the pen in my hand, I earnestly implored the Divine blessing on my feeble efforts, I am not without hopes that they may not prove altogether in vain.
You are aware that one of my chief aims has been, to impress upon your mind, by a variety of arguments and considerations, the superiority off what is called the evangelical system of religion over every other; and also to explain to you what that system is. It consists of several doctrines, closely connected with each other, and which all appear to be plainly revealed in scripture.
The first of these doctrines, and the Foundation of all the rest, is that of the deep depravity and corruption of human nature. This doctrine, in the main, is not, I believe, denied by any; but the evangelical preachers explain it in a different manner from what others do. By others it is considered as a slight taint;_ by them is represented as a deep pollution; a total alienation of the heart from God, which is most culpable, and wholly inexcusable, in his sight. So far is man, in a state of nature, from loving God above all things, that there is scarcely any thing which he does not prefer to God. To the majority of the world, what duty is so irksome as that of prayer? What day so wearisome as the sabbath? What time so long as that which is spent at church? What books so uninteresting as those which treat of religion?
Besides this dislike and repugnance to the exercise of devotion, or, in other words, to all manner of intercourse with God, there is in fallen man a spirit of disobedience and rebellion against his Maker. It is true, that many of the persons here described do fulfil various moral duties, and so far obey his commands; but they do not obey them because they are his commands. Generally speaking, some motive of interest, pleasure, or vanity, of self-gratification of one kind or other, secretly influences them; or, if they do pay any regard to God at all, it is the fear of his wrath which prompts them. They do not obey from a sincere filial desire at pleasing him, but from dread of a power which they know cannot be resisted. Such is man by nature, without any exception. This charge may be brought with as much justice against the decent and moral as against the vicious and profane. Nay, even the most eminent Christians, though this is no longer their character, will most readily acknowledge that it was once so. They can all of them remember a time when they were exactly in the condition here described. Now as God has repeatedly declared in scripture, that he will on no account admit into his presence those who are thus alienated from him, it follows, of course, that if we live and die in this state, we must perish for ever; or, to use our Saviour's own words, "Except a man be born again, he can not enter into the kingdom of God," John iii. 3. The change which our Saviour alludes to in these words, is described in the Bible under a great variety of figures and phrases, such as, being "renewed," 2 Cor. iv. 16; Eph. iv. 23; Col. iii. 10, and "sanctified," 1 Cor. i. 2; vi. 11; Rom. xv. 16; being adopted into the family of God, Rom. viii. 15; Gal. iv. 5, 6; Eph. i. 5; being no longer "under the law, but under grace," Rom. vi. 14; having "passed from death to life," John v. 24; 1 John iii. 14; &c. &c.: and St. Paul expressly says, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new," 2 Cor. v. 17; by which is plainly signified, not only that the change must be great, but that it must be universal; that " all things must become new."
To describe, as plainly and distinctly as I can, wherein this change consists, shall be the purport of the remainder of this Letter. May God grant that you, my dear Catherine, and every member of the family to which we belong, may know by experience what it means; for I must again remind you, that unless such a change be made upon every one of us, at some period or other of our lives, we are assured by the Saviour himself, that we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, John iii. 3.
In describing this change, the first thing which I shall mention, is, that every true convert becomes much more sensible than he ever was before, of his need of a Saviour. Though all are ready to acknowledge themselves to be sinners, yet those who are in a state of nature, are not fully sensible of what St. Paul calls the exceeding sinfulness of sin, Rom. iii. 13; but Divine grace opens our eyes in that respect, shows us our deep depravity, humbles us in the very dust on account of our manifold transgressions, and compels us to acknowledge there is justice in the sentence which condemns us to everlasting punishment. For to those whose eyes are thus opened to behold their guilt and danger, the gospel becomes a joyful sound, and the Saviour is indeed precious. They can enter into the meaning of St. Paul's words when he says, that he counts all things but loss that he may win Christ, and be found in him; not having, his own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness which is by faith in him, Philip. iii. 8, 9. Instead of their former apathy and indifference about religion, they delight in reading about the Saviour_in thinking of him in listening to those sermons of which he is the theme; and the chief desire, the most earnest wish of their hearts, is, that they may be admitted to a further acquaintance and to an intimate union with him.
And here I would take notice of a peculiarity in the evangelical system, which was well explained by Mr. Handy (Vicar of Kingston) in one of his sermons, and which I have often heard mentioned by Dr. Buchanan, (one of the ministers of the Cannongate, Edinburgh, in whose sermons, as well of those of Mr. Gandy, the writer of this Letter took a peculiar delight) and other preachers of his class; I mean the distinction of our Saviour's righteousness into active and passive. His death and sufferings form what is called his passive obedience. By them he made atonement for our sins; but you know that our Lord, while he was upon earth, not only died, and suffered before his death a variety of tortures, but that he lived a most meritorious life, fulfilled all righteousness, and practiced every virtue in its utmost purity and extent. Now, a mere moral preacher would tell you, that he did this only that he might leave us an example that we might follow his steps; and no doubt this was one end which he had in view, but it was not the sole nor the chief end: The scripture tells us, that he obeyed for us, Rom. v. 19; that he fulfilled all righteousness in our stead; that his righteousness is imputed to us, Rom. iv: 11; and that by his obedience many are made righteous, Rom. v. 19. We must then believe, not only that we are sinners, and stand in need of his blood to atone for our guilt, and to save us from hell, but that we stand in equal need of his righteousness to entitle us to heaven_that we can never claim any reward on account of our own defective obedience, but solely on account of his all-perfect righteousness.
Are we then sensible that we are sinners? Let us think of the blood of Jesus, and believe that it cleanseth from all sin, 1 John i. 7. Do we, on the other hand, lament the many defects, which attend even our best performances? Are we afraid that such an imperfect obedience as ours is, can never be acceptable to God? Let us think of him who has perfectly fulfilled all righteousness, and believe that his righteousness shall be imputed to us, if we are only sincerely willing that it should be so. I mean if we sincerely, and from the heart, renounce all dependence upon ourselves, upon any thing we ever have done or can do in [the] future and rely solely and entirely on the Lord Jesus, for pardon, salvation, and every spiritual blessing. This, believe me, is no easy matter. This is the rock upon which the great majority of the children of Adam do split and suffer shipwreck. It is, indeed, what none are brought to but by the effectual teaching of the Holy Ghost; for though it may be easy in words to renounce all dependence on ourselves, yet to feel in our hearts how lost and undone, how guilty and depraved we are, and how incapable of ourselves of doing any thing that is truly good, even of thinking a good thought, and at the same time to feel that implicit confidence and firm reliance on the Saviour which the Bible requires, is one of the hardest tasks which ever was proposed to fallen man. It is so contrary to his pride, and to his natural notions, and, indeed, it is so very hard a task, that we might well despair of ever being able to fulfil it, were it not for the promise of Divine assistance.
Faith, we are told, is the gift of God. This cannot well be said of a mere historical faith; but in reference to the faith I have just been describing, it is perfectly true that God alone can bestow it. The propensity to self dependence in fallen man is so very strong, that nothing less than Almighty power can completely destroy it: To God, then, let us apply for this faith with fervent and repeated entreaties. Like the importunate widow, let us give him, so to speak, no rest till he bestow upon us this inestimable blessing. If we do obtain it, from that moment we are safe_as safe as if we were actually in heaven. "He that beIieveth on me," says the Saviour, "hath everlasting life," John iii. 36; also vi. 47. Observe the expression: not, shall have it, but hath it already_is as secure of it as those who now enjoy it. From the moment we thus believe, Christ's righteousness is imputed to us, and thus do we become righteous without works, Rom. iv. 6; and if it should please God to take us immediately from this world after we have obtained this precious faith, but before we have it in our power to perform any good work as was the case with the thief on the cross, like him we should immediately be with our Saviour in paradise.
[It is proper here to explain what seems to be the author's doctrine regarding that important point, the union of faith and good works. Real faith is sufficient without works, where there is no opportunity, from sudden death, to perform any; but if there is an opportunity, and if that opportunity is neglected, it is an evident sign that it is not the faith of the gospel, "but a false and spurious imitation of it, with which the ungodly Delude and deceive themselves."]
But here, perhaps, some may ask, Is not this licentious doctrine? Will not believers be encouraged by this assurance of being righteous without works, Rom. iv. 6; to continue in sin? I answer, No. True believers cannot continue in sin, because God has declared that they shall not, Rom. vi. 14. He who justifies will also sanctify them, 1 Cor. vi. 11. He who first made man after his own image, can and will renew believers after the same image. We are told in scripture, that God hath predestinated his people "to be conformed to the image of his Son," Rom. viii. 29. He hath promised to write his law in their hearts, and to put it in their inward parts, Jer. xxxi. 33_to take away from them their hard and stony hearts, and to "give them an heart of flesh," Ezek. xi. 19_to cause them to walk in his statutes, Ezek. xxxvi. 27; and to incline their hearts to his testimonies, Deut. vi. 17; Psa. cxix. 36_to work in them "both to will and to do of his good pleasure," Philip. ii. 13. The hearts of men, you know, are in the hands of God; like the rivers of waters, he turneth them which way soever he will, Prov. xxi. 1. If he then has promised to change the hearts of believers, who or what should hinder him from effecting this change? Is he a man, that he should lie; or the son of man, that he should repent? Hath he said, and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken and shall he not make it good? Numb. xxiii. 19.
It is true indeed, that there are some who pretend to have faith, and who fancy themselves believers, and yet continue to lead a sinful, wicked life; but their faith is not the faith of the gospel. Of true faith we are told, that it purifies the heart, Acts xv. 9; works by love, Gal. v. 6; and overcomes the world, 1 John v. 4; and whatever is not productive of these effects is not true faith, but only some false and spurious imitation of it, with which the ungodly amuse and deceive themselves. In fact, a true believer looks to Jesus for sanctification, as well as for justification. He abhors sin, ho longs to be delivered from it, and would count nothing worthy of the name of salvation which did not include a deliverance from the power and prevalence, as well as from the guilt and punishment of sin.
And here I would observe, that a belief in the doctrines of the gospel has in itself a tendency to produce in the heart all the virtues and graces of the Christian life. Before, however, I proceed to prove this point, I shall premise a few observations, which may be necessary to obviate objections, and prevent mistakes on the subject.
But first, let me remind you, that sanctification is a gradual work. The change I am describing, from sin to holiness, from the love of the world to the love of God, is not instantaneous, but resembles the morning light, which shines more and more unto the perfect day, Prov. iv. 18. An established Christian differs in many respects from a young convert; and, generally speaking, that difference is in no respect more visible, than in their feelings and experience relative to the pleasures of religion. A young convert is usually beset with doubts, anxieties, and fears. He feels and knows himself to be a sinner; is depressed by a sense of his own guilt and infirmities; and has not yet learned to rejoice in Christ Jesus, and to cast all the burden of his sins upon him. But, by degrees, more light is communicated to his mind;_he perceives how God can be just, and yet the justifier of him who beIieves in Jesus;_he applies all the promises of the gospel to himself;_he looks to Jesus, not merely as the Saviour of sinners, but as his own Saviour; and believes, not merely that he died for mankind in general, but for himself in particular;_and thus he learns to look forward to heaven, as "his own certain portion and inheritance," not for any works of righteousness which he has done, but solely because he is united by faith to the all-sufficient Saviour.
Some perhaps may tell you, that this is not consistent with humility; but they mistake the nature of Christian humility, which does not consist in believing that we are going to hell, but that we deserve to go there. Who was ever more humble than St. Paul? He disparages himself in almost every page of his writings; yet he speaks of his own salvation with the utmost confidence_expresses a wish to be absent from the body, that he might be present with the Lord, 2 Cor. v. 8_says, that he had "A Desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better," Phil. i. 23_and that to him "to live is Christ, and to die is gain," Phil. i. 21. And he describes Christians in general, as those who "rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh," or in themselves, Phil. iii. 3_plainly showing, that these two feelings are no way inconsistent with each other. A criminal may believe himself to be worthy of death, yet, if he receives a pardon, he no longer fears death. Thus it is with Christians_they believe themselves to be pardoned for Christ's sake.
It is true, indeed, as I formerly observed, that young converts do not usually view things in this light; for faith, generally speaking, is a gradual attainment. It is also true, that established Christians may have their seasons of doubt and dejection; but this is owing to the weakness of their faith, and these seasons are their worst seasons. A variety of circumstances also, such as nervous and other diseases, temptations, and misfortunes of various sorts, may depress the spirits of Christians: but notwithstanding all these exceptions, for which due allowances should be made, it is perfectly true that the spirit of the gospel is a spirit of hope, peace, and joy, and that the "children of Zion" are not only humble, but joyful in their King, Psa. cxlix. 2. Now, what are the effects of this Christian joy?
St. John tells us, that "every man who hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as Christ is pure," 1 John iii. 3. And I shall proceed to prove to you, that the hope of the gospel not only fills the mind with a peace "which passeth all understanding," Phil. iv. 7; but that it is the best of all preservatives against temptation and is eminently productive of every good word and work. To love the Lord our God with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, Deut. vi. 5; Matt. xxii. 37; is, you know, the first and great commandment; but how can we love God, if we believe, or even suspect him to be our enemy?_"We love him," says St. John, "because he first loved us," 1 John iv. 19. Those who look upon God as their reconciled Father through Jesus Christ; who believe that he loves them with an everlasting love, which will endure to all eternity; that he will cause "all things to work together for their good," Rom. viii. 28; in this world, and will finally receive them into his blissful presence, not on account of any works of righteousness which they have done, but solely because he has been graciously pleased to give his own Son to suffer and die for them;_those who firmly believe all this, will find it easy to love God, nay, impossible not to love him. Such benefits would melt even a heart of stone, and transform it into a heart of flesh; and those who thus love God will take real pleasure in his ordinances, and in the public and private exercises of devotion. They pray to him with real fervour; they praise him with real gratitude; they are glad when it is said to them, Let us go up to the house of God, Isaiah ii. 3_even to God, our "exceeding joy," Psa. xliii. 4.
I do not much wonder, that the people of this world find the exercises of devotion so tiresome. To them, they suggest nothing but gloomy, or, at best, uninteresting ideas; but to the Christian, they present views, which are not only sublime and interesting but transporting and delightful. Nay, sometimes when he is enabled, by the Spirit of God, to draw nigh with the full assurance of faith, or when he is listening to an eloquent sermon from an evangelical preacher, he almost feels as if he were already transported to that heaven to which his thoughts habitually tend.
I observe further, that the belief of this system of doctrine must have a still more direct tendency to promote in us the love of Christ. Surely those who believe him to be their own Saviour, and that he died for them, will feel more love and gratitude towards him, than those who merely look upon him as the Saviour of sinners in general. They can adopt the language of St. Peter, and exultingly speak of their Redeemer, as of him, whom not having seen, they love; in whom, though now they see him not, yet believing, they rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, 1 Pet. i. 8.
And this love to Christ produces in their souls a sincere love and affection for their fellow creatures. As the blessed Jesus is now in heaven, and they upon earth, they cannot personally give him any proofs of their affectionate gratitude; but they can do what they know is, in his estimation, equivalent. You, of course, remember the beautiful and affecting words of our adorable Redeemer: "For as much as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me," Matt. xxv. 40. These words make a strong impression upon every real Christian. When he beholds an object in distress whom it is in his power to relieve, he looks upon it as an opportunity of showing his gratitude to him, who died for his offences, and rose again for his justification, Rom. iv. 25.
I would further remark, that all mankind may be divided into two classes_those who are Christians, and those who are not. Now, a Christian finds no difficulty whatever in loving his fellow-Christians, as they have the same views, the same hopes, the same desires, the same fears, the same aversions, and the same Saviour. So complete a sympathy cannot fail to excite affection and esteem; and, with regard to those who are not Christians, though a believer does not love them in the same manner that he loves his brethren, (I mean, that he does not take pleasure in their society,) and that he cannot join in their feelings and sentiments, yet he looks upon them with the sincerest pity, and with an anxious wish to promote their spiritual benefit. As he knows, by experience, the full value of the change which has passed upon his own heart, he is desirous to communicate that bliss to all around him; and as he truly loves his Saviour, he is solicitous to increase the number of his subjects. This desire to do good, prompts him to avoid whatever might appear harsh and repulsive, and to be courteous and obliging, kind and benevolent, even to those whom he cannot esteem; hoping that by these means he may gain access to their hearts, and may become the honoured instrument of promoting their eternal salvation.
Thus I have endeavoured to prove, I hope to your satisfaction, that the evangelical system of religion has the most direct and powerful tendency to promote in our hearts the love of God and of our neighbour; and if I have proved this, I have proved every thing; for, as our Saviour observes "On these two commandrnents hang all the law and the prophets," Matt. xxii. 40; that is to say, those who truly love both God and their neighbour, will fulfil all the various duties which they owe to both.
I cannot, however, quit this part of my subject without making one observation more, which is, that the faith of the gospel is our best preservative against the snares both of prosperity and of adversity; which remark I propose to explain at some length.
To begin then with prosperity. The chief danger attending that state is, that it strongly exposes us to the temptation of becoming "lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God," 2 Tim. iii. 4; and this danger is considerably increased, when those whose outward circumstances are on the whole prosperous, are also young and lively, and have been introduced into gay and fashionable circles. Persons in such circumstances may be said to stand on the brink of a precipice. They run the greatest risk of being drawn into a vortex of folly and dissipation, in which all sense of religion is likely to be swallowed up. But the faith of the gospel, that faith which I have been describing, not only fortifies the mind against such temptations, but I might almost venture to say that, to a real believer, they cease to be temptations at all. Ask an eminent Christian, who has just been rejoicing in his Saviour, whether he would be willing to give up these delightful contemplations, or even to suspend the exercise of them for a while, that he might go to a play, or a ball, or to read a novel, and he would be apt to smile at the question. Not only does he look upon these amusements as vain and ensnaring; not only does he know that they are apt to steal away the heart from God, to indispose him for the exercises of devotion, and to draw him back, as it were, to that world from whence he has with so much difficulty escaped; not only does he avoid them on these accounts, but he can with truth say, that he has altogether lost his relish for them, in the same manner as you, now that you are grown up, have lost your relish for the toys and amusements of children. It is true, indeed, that a Christian may be so circumstanced, as to be obliged to mix more with gay circles, and to join more in vain diversions, than he could wish; but when that is the case, he will enter into them with real reluctance, and will gladly escape from them as soon as he can.
I ought to add, however, especially in writing to a young person you, that this change from the love of pleasure to the love of God, is usually gradual, and that a young convert does not, generally speaking, gain so complete a victory over the world at once.
I proceed now to remark that the faith of the gospel is not only our best preservative against the snares of prosperity, but that its blessed effects are equally conspicuous in adversity. It silences murmurs; it inspires contentment and resignation; nay, it is a firm and effectual support in the midst of every calamity to which a believer can be exposed. Is the Christian visited with sickness? he anticipates the period when pain and sorrow shall for ever flee away. Is he oppressed by poverty? he reflects on the treasure which he possesses in heaven. Is he deprived of a friend? he looks forward to the time when he shall join the society of saints and angels. In short, he knows and believes that all things shall work together for his good, Rom. viii. 28; and that his light afflictions, which are but for a moment, shall work out for him a far more exceeding, even an eternal weight of glory, 2 Cor. iv. 17.
There is one evil, however, which I have not yet mentioned, and which, to the people of this world, is the most formidable of all_I mean death. Now here it is that the triumph of the evangelical principles is complete. I allow, indeed, that some weak Christians may, at such a trying period, be assailed with unreasonable doubts and fears; but I am speaking of those who are strong in faith; and they are enabled, even in the immediate prospect of dissolution, to give glory to God. They know in whom they have believed. They know that, though utterly vile and worthless in themselves, they are complete in Christ, Coloss. ii. 10; and, relying on his mediation, they can fearlessly commit their souls into the hands of that merciful Creator, who has already pardoned, justified, and sanctified them. Though their heart and flesh do faint and fail, they can lift up their heads with joy, knowing that their "redemption draweth nigh," Luke xxi. 28; and some of them can even adopt the triumphant language of St. Paul, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord," I Cor. xv. 55. 57.
Thus, my dear Catherine, have I endeavoured to describe to you the life and the death of an eminent Christian; and, let me ask you, would it not be desirable to lead such a life, and to die such a death, independently even of the eternal recompense of reward? Surely a life of peace and joy, and a death of exultation and triumph, are in themselves preferable to any thing which this world can bestow.
But Perhaps you will tell me, that you do not dispute this, but that you wish to know how this precious faith is to be obtained. How is it possible for us, frail mortals, surrounded as we are with the objects of time and sense, and with a great variety of temptations, thus to live above the world_thus to dwell among heavenly objects? I answer, in the words of our Saviour, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible," Matt. xix. 26._"Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you," James iv. 8. There is no spiritual blessing, whatever but may be obtained from the Almighty, "by earnest persevering prayer." But when you pray, beware of formality. Many think, that when they have uttered before God a set form of well-chosen words, they have done all that can be required of them. But I would not call this praying. When you pray, you should use the same earnestness and importunity which you would employ in requesting from an earthly friend some favour which you had very much at heart. And be solicitous also for an answer to your prayers. Many pray without even thinking of an answer; and how can they expect to obtain one? Surely you would not bestow a favour upon any one, who, the moment after having asked it, turned away without waiting for a reply. If you then would really desire to be renewed and sanctified, look up daily, I might almost say hourly, to Him who alone can effect this change; and examine carefully, and frequently also, into the state of your own mind, in order that you may ascertain whether your prayers have bean heard and answered. If you can perceive any symptoms of this blessed change in yourself, be thankful to God, and pray earnestly, that you may be renewed yet more and more; and pray to him in faith, believing, that what you ask of him in the name of Christ, you shall in due time receive; and this will give vigour and alacrity to your prayers.
I have sometimes thought, that real Christians may be said to possess an additional sense. They see what is invisible to others. Like Stephen, they behold with their mental eyes the heavens opened, and Christ sitting at the right hand of God, Acts vii. 56. But we can no more confer on ourselves this additional sense, than we can add to the number of our bodily senses. In fact, every conversion is so entirely brought about by the agency of the Spirit of God, that it may be called a miracle, and only differs from the miraculous cures recorded in the Gospels, in this respect, that the latter were outward and visible miracles, whereas the former is an inward and invisible one.
But here I would remind you of what happened to the blind man who was sent to wash in the pool of Siloam. Though the miracle was performed by the power of our Saviour alone, it was his pleasure that the blind man should use the means prescribed to him. Thus it is with us. Though God alone can convert us, we must not neglect the means of grace. The chief of these means, which is prayer, I have already mentioned to you; but I would wish to say a few words concerning the others.
To prayer, then, you should add a diligent study of the Bible. It is not enough to read it through, but you should study it carefully. Endeavour to ascertain its meaning; and for that purpose, compare one scripture with another, looking up to God for light and direction in this most beneficial exercise. You should also read frequently the works of evangelical writers, and hear, as often as you can, the sermons of evangelical preachers. The frequent perusal of religious books is of the utmost consequence to those who would wish to make progress in the spiritual life; but I have long thought, that the writings and sermons of those who treat merely of morality are comparatively of little use. To the outward means, add inward endeavours. Strive to believe_strive to attain a realizing faith.
To explain what I mean by this expression, I will make use of a familiar comparison. You entertain no doubt, of course, that there is such an empire as that of China, but do not think of it, perhaps, above once a year. Very different are your feelings with regard to your sister Julia. I believe I may venture to say, that not a day passes over your head in which you do not think of her, and that you frequently indulge in pleasing anticipations of what may pass between you when you meet again.
I am far from condemning these feelings; they are amiable and commendable; but I beg to remind you, that there is One to whom you are infinitely more obliged than you possibly can be to Julia, and who ought to be as frequently the subject of your thoughts. Think of Him who expired in agonies, at the very mention of which human nature shudders, to atone for your sins. Behold him, as it were, dying on the cross for you. Then direct your thoughts to that place where he still liveth to make intercession for you. Imagine the greatest and best of all Beings as looking down upon you with an eye of inexpressible benevolence, and addressing you in these most encouraging words, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," Matt. xi. 28; and then ask yourself, whether there be any thing in this world for which it would be worth your while to turn your back upon such a Saviour, and to reject such gracious offers?
But it is not enough that you think of these things now and then, or at distant intervals. The oftener you think of them, the more pleasure you will take in such meditations and the more you will feel inclined to indulge in them again. I must add, however, that you should not only think of what Christ has done for you, but also of what you ought to do for him. Endeavour to say with sincerity, as David did 'What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits?" Psa. cxvi. 12. Let your look to Jesus be a look of gratitude and of imitation. Read with the utmost care, his life, his discourses, and the writings of his apostles, in order that you may ascertain how best to show your gratitude; that you may learn how to live to him who died for you. In short, my dear Catherine, it is my earnest wish and entreaty, that you would use all these means and endeavours, and use them immediately. "Behold, now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation," 2. Cor. vi. 2. He who promises pardon, does not promise tomorrow; and if you should now reject that hand, which is, as it were, stretched out to receive you, it may soon_you know not how soon!_be withdrawn for ever. I shall say no more upon this part of my subject. I have already extended this Letter to a much greater length than I at first intended; but I felt unwilling to leave any thing unsaid that I thought might be of use, either to explain doctrines of the gospel, or to impress them upon your mind.
I am now about to conclude; but before I do so, I would wish to say a few words, in order to obviate some objections which may perhaps occur to yourself, or which may be suggested to you by others.
The first of these which I shall notice, is this: You may perhaps be told, that, according to my system, you must be always thinking of religion, which is impossible.
But this objection is founded on mistake. I readily allow that it is impossible to be always thinking of religion, neither is it possible for the learned to be always thinking of their books. Yet surely there is a very considerable difference between a learned man and an ignorant one: and, to pursue the comparison a little farther, though the learned may meet with many interruptions to their studies, they are apt to look upon those interruptions as troublesome, and they gladly return to their studies when they can. Thus it is also with the truly religious.
Another objection which may perhaps be made to my system, is that it is too strict, and that all this strictness is not necessary. To this I would reply, Can we make ourselves too sure of heaven? Is not St. Peter's advice most wise and rational, to give all diligence to make our calling and election sure? 2 Peter i. 10. An error on this side can lead to no bad consequences whatever; an error on the other side must be fatal and irretrievable. Besides, every true Christian remembers, that he is not his own, that he is "bought with a price," 1 Cor. vi. 19, 20; vii. 23; with no less a price than the blood and the agonies of the Son of God; and this thought is of itself enough to set him free for ever from all absurd apprehensions of being too strict.
But some, perhaps, may tell you, that if you lead such a life as I have been describing, you will be singular and particular. To such I would answer, that the people of God are uniformly described in scripture as "a peculiar people," Titus ii. 14. We are told that they are not of this world, John xv. 19; xvii. 16_that they love not the world_that they are not conformed to the world, Rom. xii. 2_that they are crucified to the world, Gal. vi. 14. These are striking texts._But, above all, I would wish you seriously to consider the very remarkable words of our Saviour himself, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it," Matt. vii. 13, 14.
That you, my dear Catherine, and every member of our family, may belong to that happy few; may know by experience the change I have been describing; and may rejoice in Christ Jesus both in time and in eternity, is the sincere and earnest prayer of
Your truly affectionate Sister,
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