To Theo van Gogh. Isleworth, between Monday, 23 and on or about Wednesday, 25 October 1876.
My dear Theo,
I was so grateful for your short letter and for what Ma wrote, so we’ll wait until Christmas, and then may God let us see one another again in peace.
‘My illness is not a bad thing’. No, for Sorrow is better than laughter. No, being ill and supported by God’s arm, and acquiring new ideas and resolutions during the days of one’s illness, which couldn’t occur to us when we weren’t ill, and acquiring clearer faith and firmer trust during those days, that’s not a bad thing. We worship and are silent. Living in the world must become a matter of giving to the world that which is of the world, while Religion, striving to do God’s will, must become the main concern.
Religion – doing God’s will, being a Christian – what is that? Let us seek it, and may God spare our lives, and godly sorrow6 shall not be fruitless. Its work is wrought invisibly, yet powerfully.
‘This shall be the covenant that I will make with them; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people.
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of hosts is His name.’
Must living in the world become a matter of giving to the world that which is of the world? Yes, but that living in the world means being ‘chastened, but not killed’, oh, there may be beautiful, rich days in all phases of one’s life, if the love of Christ constrains us. How well Eliot11 can describe them. Life in the world is chastened but not killed, go back into it like a child. These are beautiful words: ‘be ye therefore harmless as doves and wise as serpents’.
Behold, all things are become new.
I heard the Rev. Bersier say that when he was faced with a period of suffering and difficulties in which one says: ‘All these things are against us’.
‘All things are become new’, he said with emotion, as though he saw through everything. These are beautiful words: ‘Nothing pleaseth me but in Jesus Christ, and in Him all things please me’, ‘though even in mirth the heart be sad’.
‘My illness is not a bad thing’, no, for man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. When we are weak, we are strong. Being ill sanctifies being well and teaches one to be well.
Father, we pray that Thou dost not take us out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep us from the evil. Just get well soon, old chap, oh, how I long for Christmas.
Herewith Anna’s last letter, she’ll probably think of Welwyn often once she has left it, everything is so beautiful there.
Yesterday I was in Mr Jones’s church to help get everything ready for this evening. A vicar from Leicester will be giving a lecture on the Reformation and illustrating it with a magic lantern showing scenes from that period. I’ve already seen some of the plates, they’re in the manner of Holbein. You know that many painters and draughtsmen here work in his manner. There was a very beautiful plate of Luther’s marriage. Last Monday there was a ‘tea-meeting’ at that church, it had been one year since the church was opened. There were at least 250 people at the reception, and afterwards Mr Jones and several other preachers spoke until late in the evening.
But again, old boy, who would be able to collect his thoughts at all if the feeling of duty did not join everything together? Who would be able to maintain some earnestness without childlike faith: we are travellers, strangers – forget those things which are behind, and reach forth unto those things which are before! It is also good to believe that an angel stands behind each one of us, it is good to feel in our hearts the cry, Abba, Father!
It’s lovely here now, especially in the streets in the evening, when it’s a bit foggy and the street-lamps are lit, and also in that park I wrote to you about, I saw the sun setting there a couple of days ago, behind the elm trees whose leaves are now the colour of bronze. That haze which Anna writes about lay over the grass, and a brook runs through that park in which one sees the swans swimming.
The acacias in the playground have already lost many of their leaves, one sees them through the window in front of my reading-desk, sometimes they stand out dark against the sky, sometimes one sees the sun behind them, rising up red in the mist.
It will surely be winter soon, how fortunate that Christmas is in the winter, that’s why I like winter better than any other season, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are even better than the autumn.
How wonderful it will be to sail down the Thames and across the sea, and then those friendly Dutch dunes and that small tower that one already sees from a great distance. How little we see of each other, old boy, and how little we see of our parents, and yet the feeling of our origins and of one another is so strong that the heart is at times uplifted and our eyes look to God, beseeching, Let me not stray too far from them, not for too long, O Lord!
Must man not struggle here on earth? You must have felt so when you were ill. No victory without a battle, no battle without suffering.
Many battles must be fought
Much of life with suffering fraught
Many prayers must needs be said
For a blissful end to lie ahead.
Let me not stray too far from them, from Thy people, O Lord. Thou which art their God, be Thou also mine God, then we will be united in Thee, mould my heart after theirs, that a life may proceed from it as from theirs. And into Thy hands we commend our heart, though we endeavour to watch and pray and fight. Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain. Adieu, old boy, I wish you the very best, give my regards to those at the Rooses’ and to any other acquaintances you might see, and believe me, after a handshake in thought,
Your most loving brother
Shake Uncle Jan’s hand for me.