Dordrecht, 28 February 1877

My dear Theo,
Write again soon if you can find a moment, remain steadfast, be of good heart, and He shall strengthen thine heart.1 Wrote something for us last night which I enclose herewith,2 read it sometime.
Last night I left the office at 1 o’clock and walked around the Grote Kerk again and then along the canals and past that old gate3 to the Nieuwe Kerk4 and then home. It had snowed and everything was so still, the only thing one saw was a little light here and there in one or two upstairs rooms and, in the snow, the black figure of the rattle-man.5 It was high tide, and the canals and boats looked dark against the snow. It can be so beautiful there by those churches. The sky was grey and foggy, and the moon shone faintly through it.
Thought of you while I was walking, and upon arriving home I wrote what I’m sending you. It’s perhaps a time when one needs ‘the sound of a psalm of the past and a lamentation from the Cross’.6

Behold, I thought in the dead of night
To hear His voice, so tender, so soft.7

You have of course a De Génestet.8 Do read it  1v:2 much and often.
Pa sent me this once when I was in Paris:9

When I was a lad.10

When I was a lad, my life carefree as ever
I girt myself up, did whatever I chose,
Free to go wand’ring, to seek, to endeavour,
Free in my travels, my dreams, my repose.

Even for me, though, the hour was nearing
Of calling, of mercy, of seriousness,
When in my bosom the voice I’d been hearing
Enquired ‘Do you love Me?’ – my soul answered ‘Yes’.

Since that hour of waking my dreams are no longer,
Another now leads me, at times ’gainst my will,
Teaches my hands to reach eagerly further,
To follow and carry, oh, happy and still.

Yet now that life’s governed by the Supreme Being
Despite pain and fetters, my soul torn apart –
I find what in life I’d once vainly been seeking:
More rest and more peace for my uneasy heart.

There is no Priest who can explain
Him whom no one seeks in vain.

Although into Elijah I cannot transform
The Lord soared past me after the storm.

Writing to you in haste between tasks, adieu, a hearty handshake in thought from

Your most loving brother

A prayer from the sons of the parsonage, from the children of the minister of the gospel; from those who were blessed by their Father when they left their parents’ house and for whom their Mother prayed that day, ‘Father, I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil’.11 A prayer from the children of many prayers, a prayer from two brothers who slept together for so long in the little upstairs room in their parents’ house.

And they lifted up their voices, and wept.12

O Lord, we love the light of Thy sun and the soughing of Thy sea; we lift up our eyes to Heaven and love the stars that Thou bringest out their host by number and that Thou callest all by name.13 We love the early morning hours when Thou makest Thy sun to rise on the evil and on the good,14 and the evening hour and the setting of the sun speaks to us of the evensong coming from our parents’ house:

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.15

Happily the farmer returns from ploughing,
Bidding the gathering darkness good-day,
So happy are we after all our toiling
That the day will end without delay.
Hope will not always fade forever.16

O Joy when now all grief is banned,
The pilgrimage is long forgotten,
And we are in the Promised Land.17

When we admire Thy works, however, ah! then we feel it, even when we thank Thee for the beauty of Thy creation, that we cannot find sufficient comfort for our life; the light of the sun and the glittering of the stars, Lord, that is not it, that cannot fulfil us, we need a different and better light – the light of the spirit and the mind that was in Jesus Christ18 – Love of Thee, of Christ and of one another in Him – the light of a Love that can constrain19 and can ignite the fire of fervour in our heart.
We know that all labour is God’s labour, and that there is something good in all labour,20 but even that is not it, and we are often inclined to ask, with an eye to the beauty of nature, ‘turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity’,21 and with an eye to our labour ‘we labour for that which does not satisfy and that which does not fulfil’22 – what does that mean: Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life.23
There is a question in us – ‘What must we do to be saved?’ – and the answer to that question is ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved’.24 If thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God,25 He shall save His people from their sins.26  2v:4
We are surrounded by temptations of all kinds, by perils to the most precious thing we have, ‘our heart and our soul’. We are already far enough along life’s path to know that we are composed of great afflictions and needs and miseries, that we cannot stand with our own strength but only through Thy mercy and through the protection of Thy Love and the guidance of Thy Spirit. Into Thy hands, o Abba, Father! we commend our heart.27 Father, we pray not that Thou shouldest take us out of the world, but we pray and beseech Thee to keep us from the evil.28 Be Thou our keeper and our shade upon our right hand29 and teach us to fear Thee and to keep Thee ever in front of our eyes.

And unite my heart and aim
In Thy truth, to fear Thy Name.30

Thou knowest, O Lord, that we love Thy words with an old, old, deep-rooted, singular, fervent and very tender Love, that we believe that Heaven and Earth shall pass away, but Thy words shall not pass away,31 and that without the will of our heavenly Father not a hair can fall from our head.32 We believe in Thee and we love Thee, and though we live in everyday things, yet is the eye of our soul fixed on Thee,33 yea, our soul waiteth for the Lord, more than they that watch for the morning.34

Still welcoming us, that blessed night,
In which the stars with beauteous light
And heavenly hosts with one glad voice
In Jesus’ coming do rejoice.35

He who leads us through this earthly vale,
He whose love for us will never fail,
He has pledged His Love and a faithful hand
To speed our journey to the Promised Land.36

Burning centre of our longing,
Comforter of troubled minds,
Jesus, hymns of our thanksgiving
Praise Thy fervent love that binds.
From Heaven above Thou wouldst be sent
To Earth, tainted and torn apart,
And take upon Thyself the debt
That weighs upon our fearful heart.37

Love for Thee is our whole being,
Thou who art our highest good,
For Thy Cross gives life its meaning,
Eternally rejoice we should.
O how much to Thee we’re bound,
Jesus, Saviour, God’s own son,
Our hearts and voices do resound
To God on high, we sing as one.38

And yet, O Lord, at present we are poor, and full of sorrow, and we quake at Thy word. Yea, we love Thy Bible and are sons of Thy Bible. Thy folk is our folk and Thou art our God. Intreat us not to leave Thee, to return from following after Thee, because Lord, to whom should we go?39 Thou hast the words of Eternal Life.40 Whom have we in Heaven but Thee? And there is none upon Earth that we desire beside Thee.41 Yea, we love the old stories and our heart is burning within us42 when we read them or when we are mindful of them. We quake at Thy words with inner emotion.43 God so loved the world, that he sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not be lost, but have Everlasting Life.44 And this is life Eternal, to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.45 And so he that hath not loved  2v:5 knoweth not God; for God is Love.46 Love never faileth, but beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, believeth all things.47 Well, Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.48 And there is no fear in Love, because perfect Love casteth out fear.49
Lord, what is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the Son of man, that Thou visitest him?50 We quake at Thy words with inner emotion, we who are uncomforted, tossed with tempest.51 ‘I have loved Thee with an everlasting Love.’52 Can a woman forget her child? And if she should forget, yet will I not forget Thee.53 I will comfort Thee as one whom his Mother comforteth.54 Lord, thou woundest, but Thy hands makest whole.55 Thy ways are higher than our ways, and Thy thoughts are higher than our thoughts, as high as Heaven is above earth.56 Thou, O Lord, canst remove our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west,57 and though our sins be as scarlet, Thou, O Lord, canst make them white as snow.58 And faithful art Thou that callest us, who also will do it.59 Thou, Thou alone art able to do above all that we ask or think,60 and if mercy is shown us, who can say to what heights mercy can ascend?61
Therefore, because we have so much need of Thee, just as the disciples of old, on the road when evening had fallen and the sun had gone down, we constrain Thee, saying, ‘Abide with us’.62 Make our hearts Thy dwellingplace,63 and give us that other Comforter whom Thou hast promised to all who pray for Him, even the Spirit of truth,64 who will guide us into truth.65 Thy Love to us is wonderful, Thy Love to us is better than the love of women.66 Thou art a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.67 We are as unknown, and yet well known to Thee, make us whole and thoroughly sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing.68 Teach us to lift up the hands which hang down, and to strengthen the feeble knees,69 teach us to arise when we have fallen, and when we have sat in darkness, be unto us a light.70 We also love Thy dark words: ‘those which sat in darkness and in the shadow of death saw great light’,71 they saw in their mind’s eye Jesus Christ, and Him crucified72 and Him in Gethsemane. They saw the image of the serpent lifted up by Moses in the wilderness, and they saw and understood and came unto Thee that they might have life.73 They beheld Thee and believed in Thee, and Thou hast given them the water of life freely.74 Make us Christians too – teach us to know Christ in His full worth and teach us the meaning of ‘Come unto Me,  2r:6 all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’.75 And yet he who hate not, even his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.76
Without Thee, O Eternal Being, oh, what would man on earth be?77 But Thou art come to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind and to heal the broken-hearted.78 Thou art come to seek that which was lost,79 and to be a physician for them that are sick.80 Therefore we pray to Thee, O Christus Consolator, saying, Heal us, and we shall be healed; turn us, and we shall be turned; save us, and we shall be saved.81 Give us the best that there is in the world and in life, the bond of Love to Thee, which never lets go of us, not even when we suffer the most, and which even teaches us to take pleasure in infirmities and distresses and necessities and afflictions of all kinds.82 Into Thy hands we commend83 this, our very greatest good, which is life in reverent and pious and simple communion with Thee in prayer.
Give us the spirit of prayer and supplication to Thee. May experience of life make our eye single84 and fix it on Thee more and more, make us worshippers in spirit and in truth,85 make us the poor in Thy kingdom.86 Make that the love of Thee constraineth us87 to examine Thy words zealously and make godly sorrow worketh a choice for salvation not to be repented of.88 Thy word is a light unto our life’s path and a lamp unto our feet.89 Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.90 Thou art the bread of life which came down from Heaven,91 and whosoever desireth the living water of Thy word, it shall become in him as a source of living water.92 Whosoever eateth of that bread and drinketh of that water shall never hunger and never thirst for all eternity.93 Let us not depart from this life without having professed openly in one way or other our Love of Thee. O Lord, join us intimately to one another and let our Love for Thee make that bond ever stronger.94 Deliver us from evil,95 especially the evil of sin. Give us the holiness96 and the regeneration97 of which Thy scriptures speak, in Thee all things can become new at all times.98 We also think that we desire a good thing of Thee99 when we pray that Thou shouldest grant, IN THY TIME,100 that we be given a ring on our finger and that we may meet her on our way and that we may become men and fathers. Convey us to the opposite shore, O Lord, because we cannot rest until we rest in Thee.101 When we were children, we spoke as children, we understood as children, we thought as children, but now that we are become men, help us to put away childish things.102 Yet Lord, keep our memory green, yea evergreen.103

Ensure that for us, too, that hour is nearing
Of calling, of mercy, and seriousness,
That in our hearts the voice we are hearing
Enquires ‘Do you love Me?’, our soul answers ‘Yes!’104

Because we are sons, Thou hast sent forth the Spirit of Thy Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father.105 Again we commend ourselves to Thy Love, into Thy hands we commit our heart and our life. Be Thou the Hearer of our prayers and of those of our parents and let us not go before giving us Thy blessing,106 not now or ever. Amen, yea, Amen.

As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.
O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.
Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.
Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life. I will say unto God my rock, why hast thou forgotten me? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying to Him, Abba, Father.107

If thou art wretched, shamed, perplexed,
Then do not sin, renounce thy will
Speak to thyself and mend thy ways
And be in thy God meek and still.108

Though many ask in desperation
Who will shew us any good?
Lord, after fearful lamentation,
Show us the sweet light of Thy face
Grant us Thy favour and Thy grace.109

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in my presence:110 Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.111

Who rejoices in grey hair, and in the words of the Lord, which are a light unto life’s path and a lamp unto our feet?112 Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.113

‘Nothing troubles his end. It’s the end of a fine day.’114

Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in Thee: let me not be ashamed.115 Shew me Thy ways, O Lord; teach me Thy paths. Lead me in Thy truth, and teach me: for Thou art the God of my salvation; on Thee do I wait all the day. Remember, O Lord, Thy tender mercies and Thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for Thy goodness’ sake, O Lord. Good is the Lord and upright: therefore will He teach sinners in the way. The meek will He guide in judgment: and the meek will He teach his way.116 All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.
For Thy name’s sake, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great. What man is he that feareth the Lord? Him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose. His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and he will shew them His covenant. Mine eyes are ever toward the Lord; for He shall pluck my feet out of the net.
Turn Thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged: O bring thou me out of my distresses. Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins. Consider mine enemies; for they are many; and they have something cruel against me.117 O KEEP MY SOUL, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in Thee. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on Thee.
Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.118

Make us masters, because we are Thy faithful servants and Thy true worshippers in spirit and in truth.119 Amen, yea, amen.

Lord, take not Thy holy spirit away from the sons, from their Father and from their Father’s house, and grant that they may stand before the door of their own house before they know it, although they now say, how shall we ever get there? Grant that we may live in that house for many days120 and that that may be the way to ‘my Father’s house where there are many mansions’.121 Grant also that we may stand before the door of that house before we know it, although we shall often say ‘how shall we ever get there?’ and grant that we may live therein with the blessed who called to us

What you are now, I used to be,
what I am now, you will one day be!122

Grant that the Love of Christ may constrain us.123 Amen, yea, amen.

Grant that we may meet her on our path, grant that one day Mrs van Gogh sits before us in the carriage.124

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust. Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with His wings, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because Thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For He shall command His angels and give them charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. Because he hath set his love upon Me, saith God, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.

Lord, do not let us go, except Thou bless us.125 Father, into Thy hands we commend our Spirit,126 our soul and our heart, make us Christians and sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing.127 Amen.

What old friends we are already, let us always remain so!128


Br. 1990: 104 | CL: 87
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Dordrecht, Wednesday, 28 February 1877

2. According to Görlitz, Van Gogh’s roommate in Dordrecht, Van Gogh often read C.H. Spurgeon’s Juweeltjes. This English clergyman gave a succinct description of the function of a prayer and spoke of ‘the certain precursor of salvation’. He also advised the reader to ‘Let this be your daily prayer: “Comfort me, thus I shall be saved”’. See Juweeltjes uit de gedachten van C.H. Spurgeon. 6th ed. Rotterdam n.d., pp. 131, 185; and Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 1, p. 113; vol. 4, p. 330.
3. This presumably refers to the well-known gate called Groothoofdspoort at the beginning of Wijnstraat, close to the Nieuwe Kerk.
4. The Nieuwe Kerk (also called the Sint Nicolaaskerk) in Torenstraat.
5. In those days a watchman with a rattle walked the streets at night, calling out the hour.
6. Taken from P.A. de Génestet, ‘Onvergankelijk’ (Everlasting), seventh verse. See De Génestet 1869, vol. 2, p. 175.
7. Based on the 13th verse of P.A. de Génestet, ‘Peinzensmoede’ (Tired of thinking):

And that my soul,
In the silent night,
Your voice did hear,
So tender, so soft!

(En dat mijn ziele,
Ter stille nacht,
Uw stem wel hoorde,
Zoo teêr, zoo zacht!)

See De Génestet 1869, vol. 1, p. 344.
8. The lyrical poetry of P.A. de Génestet, whose work was widely read in Protestant circles, was available in various editions, a.o. De dichtwerken. Mrs van Gogh gave Theo the same advice: ‘Study De Génestet again; oh, how many true, good words it has, so fresh and beautiful. If something in it strikes you, just read it again, so that the words become your own, like so many words from the Bible, that are as weapons in life’s struggle’ (FR b2511, 7 March 1877).
9. Van Gogh stayed in Paris from October to December 1874 and from May 1875 to March 1876.
10. P.A. de Génestet, ‘Toen ik een knaap was’ (When I was a lad). The last four lines – evidently added to Mr van Gogh’s version – are a compilation of the 1st, 14th and final verses of the poem ‘Peinzensmoede’ (Tired of thinking). They read as follows:

There is no priest
Who can explain Him!
Man wanders the earth
In mysterious dim.

After fire and storm
I, too, sometimes soared
Although no Elijah –
Past the Lord...

There is no priest
Who can explain,
But no one seeks you
On earth in vain.

(Daar is geen Priester
Die Hem verklaart!
In raadslen wandelt
De mensch op aard.

Na vuur en stormwind
Zweefde ook soms mij –
Schoon geen Elia –
De Heer voorbij...

Daar is geen Priester
Die U verklaart,
Doch U zoekt niemand
Vergeefs op aard.)

See De Génestet 1869, vol. 1, pp. 342-345.
16. Hymn 189:1. Vincent wrote ‘avondschemering’ (evening twilight) instead of ‘avondschaduw’ (evening shadow) and ‘altoos’ (always) instead of ‘eeuwig’ (eternal).
20. This seems to be Van Gogh’s translation of the English saying ‘There is something good in all labour’, quoted in letter 108) and possibly based on Prov. 14:23.
32. The first article of the Dutch Reformed (Nederlands Hervormde) Catechism, first Sunday.
33. Cf. Rhy. ps. 27:3, ‘Hier weidt mijn ziel met een verwond’rend oog!’ (Here my soul feasts with an astonished eye!)
43. Biblical: ‘innerlijk bewogen’ (moved) is a phrase often used by Christ.
47. 1 Cor. 13:7-8. Van Gogh wrote ‘believeth all things’ twice, whereas the second time Paul wrote ‘endureth all things’.
51. Isa. 54:11, ‘O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted’.
77. Hymn 160:2, with the opening words ‘Buiten U’ (Without Thee). This line also occurs in ‘Nieuwjaarslied’ (New Year’s song) by Rhijnvis Feith, in the volume Proeve van eenige gezangen voor den openbaaren godsdienst. Amsterdam 1804 (Sample of some hymns for public worship).
83. Cf. Luke 23:46 and Ps. 31:6 (in KJ Ps. 31:5).
94. A prayer written and often recited in the family circle by Mr van Gogh; see letter 113.
96. Biblical, meaning: ‘holiness’ or ‘sanctification’.
100. Cf. Ezek. 16:8, ‘Thy time was the time of love’.
101. Aurelius Augustine, Confessiones, book 1, chapter 1: ‘Our heart is restless until it repose in Thee’. The confessions of St Augustine. Translated by Edward B. Pusey. New York 1909, p. 5. Van Gogh quotes from Confessiones, book 9, chapter 10 in letter 94.
103. The phrase ‘Lord keep my memory green’ occurs six times in Charles Dickens’s story The haunted man (1848), ), which appeared in the Christmas books; the last time as the closing line. Cf. letter 141.
104. The second verse of P.A. de Génestet, ‘Toen ik een knaap was’ (When I was a lad); see n. 10 above.
108. Rhy. ps. 42:2. Vincent wrote ‘in u zelf’ (to thyself) instead of ‘in uw hart’ (to thy heart) and left out ‘Op ’t eenzaam bedde neêrgezegen’ (Sunk down on the lonely bed). Furthermore, he wrote ‘En zwijg in God ootmoedig stil’ (And be in thy God meek and still) instead of ‘En weest in all’ ontmoeting stil’ (And be in all meetings meek and still).
110. After ‘aangezigt’ (presence), the Bible goes on to say ‘tegenover mijn tegenpartijders’ (of mine enemies).
114. Taken from Jean de La Fontaine, Fables, xii, 25, ‘Philémon et Baucis’ (line 14), set to music by Charles Gounod. Fontaine has ‘le soir’ (the evening) where Van Gogh wrote ‘la fin’ (the end).
115. Van Gogh omitted Ps. 25:2b-3.
117. Ps. 25:19 reads ‘and they hate me with cruel hatred’.
122. A memento mori utterance, probably derived from Ecclesiasticus (Jesus Sirach) 38:23 (in the English Apocrypha 38:22). Cf. also letter 87, n. 14.
124. Meaning: ‘Grant that we may one day have a wife’; cf. also ll. 255-256.
126. Luke 23:46; cf. also Ps. 31:6 (in KJ Ps. 31:5).
128. Van Gogh also voiced this wish in letter 102, l. 105.