A Pastoral Letter
By Octavius Winslow
August 1, 1852
My beloved friends,
For the first time during a pastorate among you of more than twelve years, I am separated from my official duties by serious illness, the nature and the duration of which are well calculated to awaken in our minds serious reflection and earnest prayer. I was stricken en route for Switzerland with an attack, the premonitions of which were hovering around me — yet with a force so gentle as to create no serious apprehensions — on the evening of our parting interview at the Lord's Supper. Little did we on that hallowed and memorable occasion imagine — although the possibility of such a contingency ought to have had its place in our thoughts — that many weeks would intervene before we would meet again; and that a scene of suffering was casting its cold foreshadows upon the path of the pastor, and that a season of painful solicitude awaited the sympathies and anxieties of the flock.
But not in the spirit of murmur, nor even of regret — do
I refer to this event. I see too much of God's hand in this
dispensation of his providence, to allow a moment's existence to either. In
its contemplation, every thought is absorbed — but that of deep submission;
and every feeling is stifled — but that of adoring love.
His wisdom fills my mind with admiration,
His goodness dissolves my heart in penitence,
His gentleness makes me great.
What our Heavenly Father is in his "loving correction" — what Jesus is in the soothings of his sympathy — in the succourings of his grace — the pen fails to express.
In this light do I desire myself to view, and in this light do I desire to present to your eye — this our mutual trial. And ought it not to be so? With the cross of Immanuel before me, and with the heaven of glory which that cross unveils, and to which it leads — could we properly contemplate it in any other view than as a loving correction? "He who spared not his own Son, but gave him up for us all" — shall he send an "evil" which we refuse to interpret as a good? And shall not that good, though wearing its somber disguise, raise the soul to him upon the outstretched and uplifted wing — as the wing of the "anointed cherub" — of adoration, thanksgiving, and praise?
If numbered among his saints — and, oh, be quite sure, beloved, of your heavenly calling — we stand before him as the beings of his ineffable delight, and as the recipients of his justifying righteousness. Thus loved and accepted — and we believe, and are sure, that this is the true and unchangeable condition of all his people — shall anything but a sentiment of uncomplaining gentleness — a submission, not shallow but profound, not servile but filial — respond to the dealings, however severe, of our Father in heaven?
It is, beloved, in such disciplinary seasons as
this through which we are now passing — that we become more thoroughly
schooled in the knowledge of the infinite worth, glory, and preciousness of
the Savior. I truly believe, and solemnly feel, that this is the great end
designed to be accomplished in the divine dispensations towards us. How much
is involved in a spiritual and experimental acquaintance with the Lord
Jesus! May I not say everything that is intellectually and morally great? We
are in the possession of all real knowledge when we truly know
Christ. It is utterly impossible to know the Father, as revealed in the Son
— and not become inspired with a desire . . .
to love him supremely,
to serve him devotedly,
to resemble him closely,
to glorify him faithfully here,
and to enjoy him fully hereafter!
It has been the distinctive aim, and the sincere desire, though the feeble and defective endeavor of my ministry among you — to make known and to endear the Savior to your hearts. A vision by faith of his glory, and a conviction by the Spirit of his worth — accompanied my divine life. From the moment that that believing vision burst upon my view, and that spiritual conviction fastened itself upon my heart,
"Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be until I die!"
And may I, as from a languid couch, still press the
Savior's claims to your regard? Oh, how worthy is he . . .
of your most exalted conceptions,
of your most implicit confidence,
of your most self-denying service,
and of your most fervent love!
When he could give you no more — and the fathomless depths of his love, and the boundless resources of his grace, would not be satisfied by giving you less — he gave you himself. Robed in your nature, laden with your curse, oppressed with your sorrows, wounded for your transgressions, and slain for your sins — he gave his entire self for you!
And let it be remembered, that it is a continuous presentation of the hoarded and exhaustless treasures of his love. His redeeming work now finished — he is perpetually engaged in meting out to his church the blessings of that "offering made once for all." He constantly asks your faith — woos your affection — invites your grief — and bids you repair with your daily trials to his sympathy, and with your hourly guilt to his blood.
You cannot in your drafts upon Christ's fullness — be too covetous; nor in your expectations of supply — be too extravagant. You may fail, as, alas! the most of us do, in making too little of Christ — but you cannot fail, in making too much of him! Dwelling beneath his cross, your eye resting upon the heart of God — you will in all things desire and aim to walk uprightly, exhibiting holiness in your conduct towards the saints, and in your transactions with the world; presenting your "body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." Shall not, then, every fresh contemplation of this "gift," emphatically "unspeakable," intensify our love and zeal, and our faith and activity in our Lord's work?
But I am anxious, my beloved friends, that we should hearken to the especial voice of God speaking to us in this trial. It addresses both the pastor and the flock.
To him, how significant its meaning! It seems to say, "Come apart and rest awhile." It invites him to a season of self-examination, of communion, and repose. Do not think that it is a begrudged gift, or a gift unduly estimated — when reminded that he who ministers to you in the truth of the Gospel, is expending in your service the flower of his life — the golden period of his intellectual being. How tremendous our mutual responsibility! How impossible to exaggerate it. Oh, that we may have grace equal to our relative position!
But still it is prudent to study the economics of our being, that we may know when to expend — and when to economize, our resources. The mind, at certain stages of its outworking, imperiously demands a period of repose. The laws of our mental constitution may be overworked — yet not with impunity, even as those of the physical constitution. And neither the one nor the other will allow of any arbitrary dictation or despotic rule. Obeyed in their natural and reasonable requirements — they will move on as orderly and as mildly, and with results as harmonious and beneficent, as those which govern the spheres. God, by timely and gentle admonitions, would remind us of this.
How exquisitely touching was the thoughtful care of the Master when on earth, for the needed repose of his overwrought and jaded disciples.
If this present trial results in the deeper and more sanctifying experience of the truths your pastor preaches in his own soul, and in an augmented power accompanying those truths from the pulpit to your souls — then he who sows, and you who reap, will together rejoice in this mysterious but righteous dispensation of our Lord.
But to you, my beloved, how solemn this voice! It summons you to deep searchings of heart!
Has there been no willful neglect of the channels of grace?
Has there been no listlessness or fruitfulness in hearing the word?
Has there been no loathing of our soul's manna?
Has there been no forgetting the assembling of yourselves together at the meeting for prayer, at the weekly lecture, or at any of the stated services — for which the Lord is now gently but unmistakably chiding you?
"Hear the voice of the rod — and him who has appointed it!" Holy and happy will be the outcome of this trial, if it leads to the detection and the cure of any of these evils, and stirs you up to a fresh hold upon God, and a more diligent use and enjoyment of the means of grace.
In this connection I may just add, that what I have seen abroad has tended greatly to endear to my own heart, the great and costly privileges with which, in our own happy country, we are favored. This has deepened the earnestness with which I urge you to a higher appreciation of the blessings of the freedom to preach and hear the Gospel.
And, oh, if my pulpit silence for a season shall awaken in the minds of any of you, my beloved congregation, who are yet unregenerate — to a serious, earnest, and effectual seeking of the Lord Jesus; or if it shall lead any of you who are really seeking him to accept by faith of a full and free salvation, to believe in Christ and be saved — that Christ who never yet rejected a poor sinner who in penitence and faith came to him — whose delight and whose glory it is to save sinners, even the chief — so that my return to you shall be welcomed with the joy of the "dead made alive," of the "lost found" — will not this be the sweetest, the crowning blessing of our mutual trial? God grant it for his name's sake!
But I am in danger of wearying you with the length of this epistle, and will bring it to a close. In doing so, let me offer you my warmest thanks for your affectionate sympathy and prayers. Both have proved most soothing to me in my affliction.
Let me commend to your affectionate regard and prayers, the ministers of Christ, who, from sympathy with me, and love to their Master, may occupy my pulpit. Let them find you in your places, prepared to welcome both them and their sacred message. I trust that the dear Sabbath School Teachers will remain zealous and faithful, and now much more in my absence.
Continue to cherish affection, fellowship, and kindly offices towards all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, of other Christian congregations. Let brotherly love continue among yourselves, and towards all saints.
You will be pleased to hear that I am gradually improving in health; and though I cannot speak with strong confidence, for my prostration of strength is very great — yet, the Lord willing, I hope to occupy my pulpit on the first Sunday in October.
Need I apologize for any plainness of speech in this address to you? I offer it in the words of the inspired apostle. "You know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his children — that you would walk worthy of God, who has called you unto his kingdom and glory." To his love and blessing, I commend you in solemn prayer.
Your affectionate Minister,