A Challenging Letter From 1835

I have, as of late, begun reading E. Prentiss' "Stepping Heavenward," and might I be so forward as to suggest that if you have not yet, you ought to apprehend a copy as soon as you are able and thus familiarize yourself with this classic work?

Written in the early 1800s, it reads in a cadence similar to that of my opening sentence, which may offput some, but the honesty and struggle detailed within will challenge you as you consider your own walk with Christ and ultimate sanctification.

I will likely write a summary of this excellent book when I finish, but for now, I want to share some thoughts that are included in the book from a letter written to Katy by her pastor, Dr. Cabot, concerning sanctification:

"What his methods will be with you I cannot foretell. But you may be sure that He never works in an arbitrary way. He has a reason for everything He does."

When faced with a trial, our first question is often, "why?" Which really shows presumption on our part that (1) the reasons may ever be knowable to us, and (2) we ought to know why certain things happen. But have we not read or known that to be a follower of Jesus means that we share in His sufferings? Would we prefer to share in Christ's Heaven without Christ's hardships? But we must consider then that you cannot have one without the other. (See 1 Peter 4:12-13, 2 Corinthians 1:5, and Romans 8:17-18.) To be saved is to submit oneself entirely over to the person of Christ.

Cabot's letter continues,
"Having been pardoned by your God and Savior, the next thing you have to do is show your gratitude for this infinite favor by consecrating yourself entirely to Him, body, soul, and spirit. This is the least you can do.

'But,' you may reply, 'this is contrary to my nature. I love my own way. I desire ease and pleasure... Can I not give myself so far to God as to feel a sweet sense of peace with Him, and be sure of final salvation, and yet, to a certain extent, indulge and gratify myself? If I give myself entirely away to Him, and lose all ownership in myself, He may deny me many things I greatly desire. He may make my life hard and wearisome, depriving me of all that now makes it agreeable.'

He hits it on the head, doesn't he? We often want to have the blessings of Christ (His peace and salvation) without wanting the whole of Christ (which, surely, includes suffering in the world and hatred from the world). And yet, Cabot explains, God does not harm us for harm's sake:

"As soon as you become the Lord's by your own deliberate and conscious act, He will begin that process of sanctification which is to make you holy as He is holy... He will use no painful remedy that can be avoided. Remember that it is His will that you should be sanctified, and that the work of making you holy is His, not yours.

"God does nothing arbitrary. If He takes away your health, for instance, it is because He has some reason for doing so; and this is true of every thing you value; and if you have real faith in Him you will not insist on knowing this reason."

But in this "information age," we feel we ought to know all the reasons for everything. We cannot rest until every medical problem is explained, and until every one of our "whys" are promptly answered by God, Who we have put on trial. Now He must answer our questions. He must be the one caught stammering, as if His actions are reckless and careless. As if the Creator of all the universe must answer to one of the small, sinful creatures He formed from dust.

When difficult times come, ought we not then
all the more lean on the everlasting arms? When sickness strikes, or jobs lost, or plans shattered, ought we not then all the more lean into Him Who has always been proven faithful and true?

We do not have control over what happens to us in life. Nor do we have control of how others react. We do not even have control of our health or our feelings... but Dr. Cabot tells Katy of a few things that are within our power to do:

"You can will to choose for yourself associates those who are most devout and holy.

You can will to read books that will stimulate you in your Christian life, rather than those that merely amuse.

You can will to prefer a religion of principle to one of mere feeling: in other words, to obey the will of God when no comfortable glow of emotion accompanies your obedience.

You cannot will to possess the spirit of Christ; that must come as His gift; but you can choose to study His life, and to imitate it."

What a challenge he wrote to her, and to us! To bow to the Father rather than our feelings. To choose friends not for the sake of ease of conversation or sense of humor, but as a means to becoming more like Christ. To opt for challenging literature over the entertainment of fiction. To study Christ on a daily basis rather than just sing His praises on Sunday.

I feel challenged and spurred on by this man of God in a fictional novel from nearly 200 years ago, and it is my prayer that his words have done the same for you.


Elle said...

I have a copy of Stepping Heavenward and have enjoyed it immensely. Thank you for the reminder of Cabot's admonition on sanctification--timely and still much appreciated.

LisaM said...

I must find this book - thank you for posting this thoughtful exerpt.

JustJana said...

HI!I just found your blog off the SL forums. I've never been here before, but I'm enjoying my stay! I'm bookmarking it! Keep up the good writing.

Christina said...

Excellent thoughts! I read Stepping Heavenward over a year ago and am now reading Elizabeth Prentiss' biography as part of a bookclub over at GirlTalk. (Have you heard of this blog? You might like it. http://www.girltalk.blogs.com/)

Her biography by Sharon James is well done and I am enjoying reading it as well.