To Theo van Gogh. Isleworth, Friday, 3 November 1876.
My dear Theo,
It’s again high time that you heard something from me. Thank God you’re recovering, I long so much for Christmas – perhaps that time will come before we know it, even though it seems a long way off.
Theo, your brother spoke for the first time in God’s house last Sunday, in the place where it is written ‘I will give peace in this place’. I’m copying out what it was herewith. May it be the first of many.
It was a clear autumn day and a lovely walk from here to Richmond along the Thames, which reflected the large chestnut trees with their load of yellow leaves and the clear blue sky, and between the tree-tops the part of Richmond that lies on the hill, the houses with their red roofs and windows without curtains and green gardens, and the grey tower above it all, and below, the large grey bridge with tall poplars on either side, with people crossing it who looked like small black figures. When I stood in the pulpit I felt like someone emerging from a dark, underground vault into the friendly daylight, and it’s a wonderful thought that from now on, wherever I go, I’ll be preaching the gospel – to do that well one must have the gospel in his heart, may He bring this about. God says, Let there be light: and there is light. He speaks, and it is done. He commands, and it stands, and it stands fast. Faithful is He that calleth us, who also will do it. You know enough of the world, Theo, to see how a poor preacher stands rather alone as far as the world is concerned – but He can awaken in us, more and more, awareness and firmness of faith. ‘And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me’.
I know in Whom my faith is founded,
Though day and night change constantly,
I know the rock on which I’m grounded,
My Saviour waits, unfailingly.
When once life’s evening overcomes me,
Worn down by ills and strife always,
For every day Thou hast allowed me,
I’ll bring Thee higher, purer praise.
Praise, Christian, there on your left hand,
And on your right, is God –
When I have no more strength to stand,
When anguished, there is God –
When loving hand of faithful friend
Helps not, there is God –
In death and agony at life’s end,
Yes, everywhere is God.
How I long for Christmas and to see all of you, old boy, it seems to me that I’ve grown years older in these few months.
The panting hart, the hunt escapèd,
Cries no harder for the pleasure
Of fresh flowing streams of water
Than my soul doth long for God.
Yea, my soul thirsts for the Lord,
God of life, oh when shall I
Approach Thy sight, and drawing nigh,
Give Thee praise in Thine own house.
Why art thou cast down, my soul,
Disquieted in me, oh why?
Foster again the faith of old,
Rejoice in praising Him most high.
Oft hath he taken your distress
And turned it into happiness.
Hope in Him, eyes heavenward raised,
For to my God I still give praise.
My boy, if illness and difficulties come to meet us, let us thank Him for bringing us into these hours – and let us not forget meekness, for it is written: On this man will I look, even on him who is poor and sorrowful and who trembleth at My word. Yesterday evening I went to Richmond again, and took a walk there on a large common surrounded by trees, and houses around it, above which the tower rose. Dew lay on the grass and it was growing dark; on one side the sky was still full of the glow of the sun that had just set there, on the other side the moon was rising. An old lady (dressed in black) with lovely grey hair was walking beneath the trees. In the middle of the common, some boys had lit a big fire, which one saw flickering in the distance; I thought of this: when once life’s evening overcomes me, worn down by ills and strife always, for every day Thou hast allowed me, I’ll bring Thee higher, purer praise. Adieu, a handshake in thought from
Your most loving brother,
Regards to Mr and Mrs Tersteeg, Haanebeeks, Van Stockums and everyone at the Rooses’ and Van Iterson and if you should see someone or other whom I know.
Your brother was indeed moved when he stood at the foot of the pulpit and bowed his head and prayed ‘Abba, Father, let Thy name be our beginning’.
On Thursday week I hope to speak at Mr Jones’s church: And the Lord added daily to the church such as should be saved, on John and Theagenes.