Fairfax Co., Va., Nov. 11, 1859.
Dear Sister Harriet: – Your interesting letter of Sept. 15th, came to hand in due time, but I have been much from home since, and have really had no time to attend to correspondence. Indeed, owing to infirmities of mind incident to age, writing has become a real task to me. When I get home after my journeys I feel more like resting or being composed, than using that exertion of mind which is necessary to writing.
You address me as father, and then ask my views upon the propriety of calling any man father. I am not partial to the term in addressing any man, or in being addressed by others. There is certainly a certain sense in which we should call no man father, or our Lord would not have forbidden it. In the very sense in which I understand him to forbid it, popular preachers in every age have been ambitious in being called father. This has tended to render my mind averse to the use of the term, excepting with relation to natural parentage, but the Scriptures justify the use of the term with respect to age, as 1 John ii. 13, 14, and as perhaps in the case you quote from 1 Cor. iv., where it is used to denote the persons having been instrumental in conveying gospel truth first to our mind, but when, by the use of the term, we would acknowledge any person or thing, such as Sunday Schools, Tracts or other things, as that which produced in us spiritual life and light, we entirely transgress our Lord’s instruction, and contradict the truth of the case. For if we have over been begotten again, begotten to a spiritual existence, our God sovereignly and independently has done it, and not any preacher. Again, if we receive and rest upon anything as religious truth, because any man has taught it, and not because we have an internal evidence that it is God’s revealed truth, we acknowledge that man as our father, or the father of such truth, or rather sentiment, and thus go contrary to our Lord’s instruction.
Still further, our Lord’s instruction upon this point was designed to guard his disciples from looking to men, or to any man, for spiritual instruction, instead of looking to God alone, that they might be taught of him. When God teaches us, though he may make man instrumental in conveying to us the truth taught, we shall receive it, not as the word of man, but as the word of God, and shall thus rest upon it as God’s truth, feeling that God has enlightened our minds to know the truth.
You complain of feeling very sinful in all your ways, and express fears on this account that you may have been deceived. If you did not feel, and thus know your entire sinfulness, you might well doubt your having been taught or enlightened of God. We know from God’s word that we are altogether depraved, that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, and if therefore God has ever taught us the knowledge of ourselves, we shall not only know this to be the truth in theory, but we shall also feel it to be so. Where there is life there is feeling, as well spiritually as naturally. If there is anything good or lovely in us, it is the spiritual man or Christ in us, and not the old or natural man changed. Love to God, love to his people and cause, love to the truth, and a desire to be holy, and live to God, these things are good, as well as faith in Christ. And it is our having this knowledge of God, and his love shed abroad in our heart, that makes us truly feel our sinfulness, and loathe it. Hence it is that we have no confidence in ourselves, nor in our doings, and that we come to trust alone in Christ for acceptance with God. These are evidences to others, and ought to be to ourselves, that we are born of God, and are therefore his children.
There are thousands of religionists about us, whose religious knowledge is derived altogether from men and from books, and who look to these to be taught, these are therefore the disciples of men, and may well call men their fathers. These do not feel themselves to be sinful and vile, but have a good deal of confidence in themselves, and in their own doings, and think that they are better and more holy than others, who do not say their prayers, &c.
There is something mysterious in the ways of God toward your family, that your grandmother, mother and yourself, should be Old School Baptists, and yet have been located so far away from all with whom you can have fellowship. It must be that God had some use for witnesses to the truth there, either for condemnation, or for good to those around you, or he would not in his providence have placed you thus far from your brethren. It is at any rate a witness to the sovereignty of God’s grace, that he can by his grace constrain whom he will to profess and to contend for the truth, how much soever alone they may be in their faith, and how much soever they may be surrounded with opposition. Surely it may be said, “what hath God wrought,” in keeping your grandmother, and mother, in the faith, and in bringing you into it, under the circumstances in which you all have been placed. Had you followed the leadings of nature, or been influenced by worldly considerations, you would have embraced some of the systems of religion around you, and found plausible cause for it, rather than to have separated yourselves from all the influential and learned people around you. So God’s placing you in this isolated condition, affords to you and to others, a strong testimony that your profession is not only sincere, but that you have been constrained by a higher influence than that of self, or the world, and that the love of God must have constrained you.
But I will close. Mrs. Trott wishes to be remembered to you. My love to you and the whole family. “Write again when you feel like it.
Signs Of The Times
Volume 68, No. 15.
AUGUST 1, 1900.