Epistle Number One. Bro. ——, Dec. 10, 1871, I was shown that you and your sisters were in a very dangerous condition, and that which makes your state the more dangerous, is, that you do not realize your true state. I saw you enveloped in darkness. This darkness has not settled upon you suddenly. You commenced to enter the mist of darkness gradually, and almost imperceptibly, until the darkness is as light to you, yet the cloud is becoming more dense every day. I saw, now and then, a gleaming of light separating the darkness from you; then again it would close about you, firmer and more dense than before.
Your singing schools have ever been a snare to you. Neither you, nor your sisters, have a depth of experience that will enable you to associate with the influences you are brought in contact with in your singing schools without being affected. It would take stronger minds, with greater decision of character than you three possess, to be brought into the society you are, and not be affected. Listen to the words of Christ: "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven." Have your example and influence been of that positive character that has impressed and convicted your associates? I think not. You have been injured. Darkness has settled upon you, and dimmed your light; and your light has not burned with that luster to dispel the darkness about others. You have been separating farther and farther from God. You, my brother, have but a faint sense of what you have been doing.
You have been standing directly in the way of your sisters' advancement in the divine life. Your sisters, more especially ——, have been entangled with the bewitching, Satanic wiles of spiritualism, and if she rids herself of this unholy slime of Satan, which has perverted her sense of eternal things, she will have to make a mighty effort. It will be but a hair's breadth escape. You have been blinded, deceived, and enchanted, yourself. You do not see yourself. You are all three of you very weak, when you might be strong in the precious, saving truth, strengthened, stablished, and settled upon the rock Christ Jesus. I feel deeply. I tremble for you. I see temptations on every hand, and you with so little power and strength to resist them.
Bro. ——, I was shown you infatuated and deceived as to your motives and real purposes of your heart. I saw you in the society of Bro. ——'s daughter. She has never yielded her heart to Christ. I was shown her affected and convicted. But your course was not of that character to deepen conviction, or to give her the impression that there was special importance attached to these matters. You profess to hold sacred the salvation of the soul, and the present truth. She does not respect the Sabbath from principle. She loves the vanity of the world. She enjoys the pride and amusements of life. But you have been departing so gradually from God and from the light, that you do not see the separation which the truth necessarily brings between those who love God and the lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. I saw you were attracted to her society. Religious meetings and sacred duties are of minor importance, while the presence of a mere child, without any knowledge of the truth or of heavenly things, fascinates you. You have overlooked self-denial and the cross, which lie directly in the pathway of every disciple of Christ.
I was shown that if you had been walking in the light, you would have taken your position decidedly for the truth. And your example would have shown that you considered the truth you profess of that importance that your affections and heart could go only where the image of Christ was discernible. Christ now says to you, ——, Which will you have, me, or the world? Here is your decision to be made. Will you follow the promptings of the unsanctified heart? turn away from self-denial for Christ's sake? step over the cross without lifting it? or will you lift that cross, heavy though it may be, and make some sacrifice for the truth's sake? May God help you to see where you are, that you may place a true estimate upon eternal things. You now have so little spiritual eyesight that the holy and sacred are placed upon a level with the common. You have responsibilities. Your influence affects to a great extent your sisters. Your only safety is separation from the world.
I was shown you, ——, taking the young with you to scenes of amusement at the time of a religious interest, and also engaging in singing schools with worldlings who are all darkness, and who have evil angels all around them. How would your feeble, dim light appear amid this darkness and temptation? Angels of God do not attend you upon these occasions. You are left to go in your own strength. Satan is well pleased with your position, for he can make you more efficient in his service than if you did not profess to be a Christian, keeping all the commandments of God. The True Witness addresses the Laodicean church, "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot. So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth: Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and. that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous, therefore, and repent."
You are blinded and infatuated. You have felt strong when you were weakness itself. You can be strong in the Mighty One. You can be an instrument of righteousness, if you are willing to suffer for Christ's sake. You and your sisters may redeem the time if you will. But it will cost an effort. Your younger sister is linked to one who is not worthy of her affections. There are serious defects in his character. He has not reverence for sacred and holy things. His heart has not been changed by the Spirit of God. He is selfish, boastful, loving pleasure more than duty. He has no expereince in self-denial and humiliation. In choosing friendship, there should be great caution that an intimacy is not contracted with one whose example it would not be safe to imitate, for the effect of such an intimacy is to lead away from God, from devotion, and the love of the truth. It is positively dangerous for you to be intimate with friends who have not a religious experience. If either of you, or all three of you, follow the leadings of God's Spirit, or value your soul's salvation, you will not choose as your particular and intimate friends those who do not maintain a serious regard for religious things, and who do not live under its practical influence. Eternal considerations should come first with you. Nothing can have a more subtle and positively dangerous influence upon the mind, and serve to banish serious impressions, and convictions of the Spirit of God, than to associate with those who are vain and careless, and whose conversation is upon the world and vanity. The more engaging these persons may be in other respects, the more dangerous is their influence as companions, because they would throw around an irreligious life so many pleasing attractions.
God has claims upon all three of you, which you cannot lightly throw aside. Jesus has bought you with the price of his own blood. "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." Have you no sacrifice to make for God? Great responsibilities stand in the passages of your every-day life. Your record is daily passing up to God. Great dangers lie hidden in your pathway. If I could, I would take you in my arms and bear you safely over them; but this I am not permitted to do. Your are in the most critical period of your life-history. If you arouse and direct the energies of the soul after things of eternal interest, and if you make everything subordinate to this, you will make a success of perfecting Christian characters. You may all engage in the spiritual warfare against besetting sins, and you may, through Christ, come off victors. But this is no child's play. It is a stern warfare, involving self-denial and cross-bearing. Your dangers are that you will not fully realize your backslidings and your perilous condition. Unless you view life as it is, cast aside your brilliant fancies of imagination, and come down to the sober lessons of experience, you will awake when it is too late. You will then realize the terrible mistake you have made.
Your education has not been of that kind to form solid, substantial characters, therefore you have this education to obtain now, which you should have had years ago. Your mother was too fond of you. A mother cannot love her children too well, but she may love unwisely, and allow her affection to blind her to their best interest. You have had an indulgent, tender mother. She has shielded her children too much. She has taken the burdens of life which have nearly crushed out her life, while her children should have taken them. They could have borne them better than she.
The deficiencies in your characters of firmness and self-denial is a serious drawback in obtaining a genuine religious experience that will not be sliding sand. Firmness, and integrity of purpose, should be cultivated. These qualifications are positively necessary for a successful Christian life. If you have integrity of soul, you will not be swerved from the right. No motive will be sufficient to move you from the straight line of duty; you will be loyal and true to God. The pleadings of affection and love, the yearnings of friendship, will not move you to turn aside from truth and duty, you will not sacrifice duty to inclination.
If you are allured to unite your life-interest with an young, inexperienced girl, who is really deficient in an education in the common, practical, daily duties of life, you make a mistake; but this is small in comparison with her ignorance in regard to her duty to God. She has not been destitute of light. She has had religious privileges, and yet her heart has not felt her wretched sinfulness without Christ. If you, in your infatuation, can turn from the prayer-meeting, repeatedly, where God meets with his people, in order to enioy the society of one who has no love for God, and sees no attractions in the religious life, how do you expect God can prosper such a union? Be not in haste. Early marriages should not be encouraged. If a young woman, or a young man, have not respect to the claims of God, and heed not the claims which bind them to religion, there will be danger that they will not properly regard the claims of the husband, or the wife. The habit of frequently being in the society of the one of your choice, and that, too, at the sacrifice of religious privileges and of your hours of prayer, is dangerous; and you sustain a loss you cannot afford. The habit of sitting up late at night is customary, but it is not pleasing to God, even if you were both Christians. These untimely hours injure health, unfit the mind for the next day's duties, and have an appearance of evil. My brother, I hope you will have self-respect enough to shun this form of courtship. If you have an eye single to the glory of God, you will move with deliberate caution. You will not suffer love-sick sentimentalism to so blind your vision that you cannot discern the high claims your God has upon you as a Christian.
I address myself to you three, dear youth. Let it be your aim to glorify God, and attain his moral likeness. Invite the Spirit of God to mold your character. Now is your golden opportunity to wash your robes of character, and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. I regard this as the turning-point in your destiny. Which will you choose, says Christ, me, or the world? God calls for an unconditional surrender of the heart and affections to him. If you love friends, brothers or sisters, father or mother, houses or lands, more than me, says Christ, ye are not worthy of me. Religion lays the soul under the greatest obligation to her claims, to walk by her principles. As the mysterious magnet points to the north, so do the claims of religion point to the glory of God. You are bound, by your baptismal vows, to honor your Creator, and to resolutely deny self and crucify your affections and lusts, and have even your thoughts brought into obedience to the will of Christ.
Shun running into temptation. But when temptations surround you, and you cannot control the circumstances which expose you to them, then you may claim the promise of God, and with confidence and conscious power exclaim, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." There is strength for you all in God. But you will never feel your need of that strength which alone is able to save you, unless you feel your sinfulness and weakness. Jesus, your precious Saviour, now calls you to take your position firmly upon the platform of eternal truth. If you suffer with him, he will crown you with glory in his everlasting kingdom. If you are willing to sacrifice all for Christ, then he will be your Saviour. But if you choose your own way, you will follow on in darkness until it is too late to secure the eternal reward.
What have you been willing to suffer for the truth's sake? You have a short, very short, period in which to cultivate the noble traits of your character. You have all been, to some extent, dissatisfied and unhappy. You have had many complaints to make. You have talked, especially —— and ——, your unbelief, and censured others. You have had hearts filled with pride, and even bitterness, at times. Your closets have been neglected, and you have not loved the exercises of religious duties. If you had been persevering in your efforts to grow up into Christ your living head, you would now be strong, and competent to bless others with your influence.
If you had cultivated a steady, uniform, unwavering energy, you would now be strong to resist temptation. But these precious qualities can only be gained through a surrender of the soul to the claims of religion.
Then your motives will be high, the intellect and affection will be balanced by high principles. God will work with us if we will only engage in healthy action. We must feel the necessity of uniting our human efforts and zealous action with divine power. We can stand forth in God, strong to conquer. ——, you have greatly failed in energy of purpose to do, and to endure.
What a great mistake is made in the education of children and youth, in indulging, and favoring, and petting them. They become selfish and inefficient. There is a lack of energy exercised in the little things of life. The character has not been trained to acquire strength in the performance of the every-day duties, lowly though they may be. There is a neglect of doing willingly and cheerfully what lies directly before you to do, which some one must do. There is a great desire with us to find a more exalted, larger work.
No one is qualified for the important and great work, unless he has been faithful in the performance of the little duties. It is by degrees the character is formed and the soul trained to put effort and energy proportionate for the task which is to be accomplished. If we are creatures of circumstance, we shall surely fail of perfecting Christian character.
You must master circumstances; not allow circumstances to master you. You can find energy at the cross of Christ. You can now grow by degrees, and conquer difficulties, and overcome force of habit. You need to be stimulated by the life-giving force of Jesus. You should be attracted to Christ, and clothed with his divine beauty and excellence. Bro. ——'s daughter has an education to gain, as she is no more competent for the duties and difficulties of life as a wife, than a school girl of ten years old.
Religion should dictate and guide you in all your pursuits, and should hold absolute control over your affections. If you yield yourselves unreservedly into the hands of Christ, making his power your strength, then will your moral sense be clear to discern the quality of character that you may not be deceived by appearances and make great mistakes in your friendship. You want your moral power keen and sensitive, that it may bear severe tests and not be marred. You want your integrity of soul so firm that vanity, display, or flattery, will not move you.
Oh! it is a great thing to be right with God, the soul in harmony with its Maker, that amid the contagion of evil example, which in its deceitful appearance would lure the soul from duty. Angels may be sent to your rescue; but bear in mind, if you invite temptation, you will not have divine aid to keep you from being overcome. The three worthies endured the fiery furnace, for Jesus walked with them in the fiery flame. If they had, of themselves, walked in the fire, they would have been consumed. Thus will it be with you. If you do not walk deliberately into temptation, God will sustain you when the temptation comes.