How Catherine Beecher
Lyman Beecher consoles his daughter Catherine Beecher in a letter May 30,1822 at the loss of her fiancé who died at sea, the subject of which inspired the characters in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s romance novel, The Minister’s Wooing. Catherine would never marry.
"My dear Child,— On entering the city last evening, the first intelligence I met filled my heart with pain. It is
all but certain that Professor Fisher is no more.
"Thus have perished our earthly hopes, plans, and prospects. Thus the hopes of Yale College, and of our country, and, I may say, of Europe, which had begun to know his promise, are dashed. The waves of the Atlantic, commissioned by Heaven, have buried them all.
"And now, my child, I must say that, though my heart in the beginning was set upon this connection, I have been kept from ever enjoying it by anticipation, even for an hour.
The suspense in which my life has been held, the threatening of your life, with the impression of uncertainty about all things earthly taught me by the lesson of the last six years, have kept my anticipations in check, and prepared me, with less surprise and severity of disappointment, to meet this new scene of sorrow.
"On that which will force itself on your pained heart with respect to the condition of his present existence in the eternal state, I can only say that many did and will indulge the hope that he was pious, though without such evidence as caused him to indulge hope.
||Lyman Beecher is saying that Professor Fisher did not himself see evidence that God had turned him into a dog, but many had hopes, and will have hopes that he is in heaven despite the evidence.
"This is not, in minds of his cast, an uncommon fact. Besides, during the war of elements, there was given a protracted period of warning, increasing in pressure and certainty of issue, which afforded space for submission, and powerful means to a mind already furnished with knowledge, and not unacquainted with the strivings of the Spirit.
||Lyman Beecher is saying The Holy Spirit had educated professor Fisher with common grace to the need for repentance and submission ot God before the storm, and given him increased warnings of the urgency by the natural elements of the storm.
"But on this subject we can not remove the veil which
God allows to rest upon it, and have no absolute resting place but submission to his perfect administration.
"And now, my dear child, what will you do? Will you turn at length to God, and set your affections on things above, or cling to the shipwrecked hopes of earthly good? Will you send your thoughts to heaven and find peace, or to the cliffs, and winds, and waves of Ireland, to be afflicted,
tossed with tempest, and not comforted?
"Till I come, farewell. May God preserve you, and give me the joy of beholding life spring up from death."
Catherine Beecher writes to Edward about the loss of her fiancés June 4, 1822. Some of her words would be used by Harriet Beecher Stowe in The Minister’s Wooing.
"Your letter came at a time when no sympathy could
soothe a grief 'that knows not consolation's name.' Yet it was not so much the ruined hopes of future life, it was dismay and apprehension for his immortal spirit. Oh, Edward,where is he now? Are the noble faculties of such a mind doomed to everlasting woe, or is he now with our dear mother in the mansions of the blessed?
"When I think of the scene of her death-bed there is a mournful pleasure. She died in peace, and the eyes that were closing on earth were to open in heaven. But when I think of the last sad moments of his short life—the horrors of darkness, the winds, the waves, and tempest, of his sufferings of mind when called to give up life and all its bright prospects, and be hurried alone, a disembodied spirit, into unknown, eternal scenes, oh, how dreadful, how agonizing!
"Could I but be assured that he was now forever safe, I would not repine. I ought not to repine now, for the Judge of the whole earth can not but do right.
"My dear brother, I am greatly afflicted. I know not where to look for comfort. The bright prospects that turned my thoughts away from heaven are all destroyed; and now that I have nowhere to go but to God, the heavens are closed against me, and my prayer is shut out.
"I feel that my affliction is what I justly deserve. Oh that God would take possession of the heart that He has made desolate, for this world can never comfort me. I feel to the very soul that it is He alone who hath wounded that can make whole.
"But I am discouraged, and at a loss what to do. I feel no realizing sense of my sinfulness, no love to the Redeemer, nothing but that I am unhappy and need religion; but where or how to find it I know not.
"I know you will pray for me, that you would comfort me if you knew how. But the help of man faileth. The dearest friends can only stand and look on; it is God alone that can help.
Catherine Beecher writes another letter to Edward July 1822.
"Now the judgments of God have brought me to a stand.
I am called to look back upon past life, and consider what
I have done. It is a painful and humiliating retrospection.
I see nothing but the most debasing selfishness and depravity
in my heart, and this depravity equally displayed in all the actions of my past life.
"But, alas! this extenuating feeling blunts the force of
conviction. I see that I am guilty, very guilty, but I can
not feel, neither can I convince my understanding, that I am
totally and utterly without excuse. I see that I could have
done otherwise, and that I had the most powerful motives
that could be applied to induce me to do so, and I feel that
I am guilty, but not guilty as if I had received a nature
pure and uncontaminated. I can not feel this; I never shall
by any mental exertion of my own; and if I ever do feel it,
it will be by the interference of divine Omnipotence, and
the work would seem to me miraculous.
"When I have confessed my sins to God, there has always
been a lurking feeling, though I sometimes have not
been aware of it, that, as God had formed me with this perverted
inclination, he was, as a merciful being, obligated to
grant some counteracting aid. Now I perceive how ruinous
this feeling is, how contrary to the whole tenor of the
Gospel. But is there not a real difficulty on the subject?
Is there any satisfactory mode of explaining this doctrine, so
that we can perceive its consistency while the heart is unrenewed?
" If all was consistent and right in the apprehension of
my understanding, there would be no such temptation to
skepticism as I feel growing within me. I feel all the time as if there was something wrong -something that is unreasonable.
Sometimes I think the Bible is misunderstood,
and that there must be promises of aid to the exertions of
the unrenewed. But then I find as great difficulties on that
side. There have been moments when I have been so perplexed
and darkened as to feel that no one could tell what
was truth from the Bible.
“ But the prevailing feeling is that these things are so;
that I have been instructed in the truth, and that, if I ever see the consistency and excellency of the truth, it will be
through the enlightening operation of the Holy Spirit.
"But I am most unhappy in the view which this doctrine
presents of my own state and that of my fellow-creatures,
except the few who are redeemed from the curse. When
I look at little Isabella (Isabella Beecher had just been born in 1822 to Lyman Beecher's second wife - she lived a long and productive life), it seems a pity that she ever was
born, and that it would be a mercy if she was taken away.
I feel as Job did, that I could curse the day in which I was
born. I wonder that Christians who realize the worth of
an immortal soul should be willing to give life to immortal
minds, to be placed in such a dreadful world.
"I see that my feelings are at open war with the doctrines
||The American New Light Calvinists Hopkins and Bellamy would say it is precisely your feelings that indicate your spiritual condition. Until the cat is supernaturally changed into a dog, the cat accepts intellectually the decrees of God, but feels uncomfortable with them. Once the cat becomes a dog, he feels comfortable with the decrees of God, even if he has mental reservations.
I don't know that I ever felt enmity to
God, or doubted of his justice and mercy, for I can more
easily doubt the truth of these doctrines than the rectitude
"I feel that my case is almost a desperate one, for the
use of the means of grace have a directly contrary effect on
my mind from others. The more I struggle, the less guilty
I feel; yet I dare not give them up.
"Thus my hours are passing away as the smoke, and my
days as a tale that is told. I lie down in sorrow and awake
in heaviness, and go mourning all the day long. There is
no help beneath the sun, and whether God will ever grant
His aid He only knows."
Lyman Beecher writes to Catherine Beecher September 25, 1822. This may be the single best explanation of any American New Light Calvinist of why Samuel Hopkins insisted on an immediate decision for Christ, which was usually decribed as repentance and submission to God. Also, there is a dig at Scottish Common Sense Realism in his reference to the English fishing with a hook while the Americans fish with a net.
"Dear Catharine, — That your mind has found a kind
of composure which prevents your repining at what is past,
or wishing to change the present, and leaves alive only the
desire to find happiness in God, though not religion, is a
state of mind more propitious, I should hope, than that which
has preceded it.
“The cessation of restless impatience, of that desperate
importunity to be delivered soon, or to cast away the irksome
thoughts of religion, is also a favorable change; for, though we may make haste to do our duty, we have no right
to hasten God in his work of grace, or be impatient at his
delay. The resignation of necessity or self-despair which
you describe, so long as your interest and exertions arc not
affected by it, is not an unfavorable state of mind ; and your
hope that God will do something, if it do not prevent a
sense of obligation to exercise right affections, and the attempt
daily to give yourself away to him, is a correct state
of feeling. Our expectation is from God only, when we
have done all.
" The character of Christ by Newton (minister John Newton, author of Amazing Grace) as merciful, lovely,
and compassionate, can not certainly exceed the scriptural
representation or the reality; and I am glad that your vacant
eye at last has fixed on these traits of his character,
and your sad heart begins to feel that he does hear when
you pray, and does pity. If he did not hear and pity, how
could he be 'a merciful and faithful high-priest?” Read the
second chapter to the Hebrews.
"You are only to remember that he hears what you say,
and knows what you feel, and pities you as a lost sinner;
and that, though the fact may encourage our supplication,
we must not mistake the reaction of selfish gratitude for
" His entire character as holy, just, and good, as maintaining
the honor and government of God, and saving from sin,
is to be taken into view, and, on the ground of our necessity
and his sufficiency, we are required with humble boldness
to come to him.
“But if his purity and justice repel, the softer traits may
come in to encourage our approach to Him who will in no
wise cast out him that cometh.
"Oh that you would cast yourself affectionately into the
hands of this good, merciful, pitiful Savior, who invites you,
weary and heavy laden, to come to Him, and promises to
your tempest-toss'd spirit rest…
"And yet I am startled at the tranquility produced by
reading Newton, and the hope that God will, in his own
good time, grant you comfort, even though it does not at
all abate your earnest seeking. Perhaps it is, as I have
said, no greater encouragement than you may need, and the
tranquillity may not be dangerous. I fear only because it
is precisely the effect always produced by such directions
as Dr. Dwight (Timothy Dwight was Lyman Beecher's instructor at Yale - Dwight was a Bellamite, not a Hopkinsian, so he gave greater credence to using the Means of grace and Law Works as the way the Holy Spirit illuminated seekers to their desperate condition. Beecher and Nettleton disagreed with Dwight (and Bellamy) on this point, saying with Hopkins that seekers were apt to use the Law Works and Means Of Grace to put of immediate repentance and submission to God) used to give to awakened sinners, and as the
English divines still give.
"Now who are right, the Old or New England divines?
As to the proper directions to be given to awakened sinners
generally, even you may be certain. When you consider the character of man as entirely depraved — when you consult
your own cold, selfish heart, or read the requisitions of the
law and the Gospel, and their exposition by the apostles—
if God does not demand immediate spiritual obedience, he
does not demand any thing. If he does, what are we that
we should release sinners from the requirements of God?
"And as to using the means of grace, what are the means
of grace but the requirements of God, with the motives by
which they are enforced ? Releasing sinners from a sense
of obligation to pray immediately and always, with affectionate
reliance on Christ and penitence for sin, surely does
not tend to make them pray in this manner of themselves,
and surely it does not increase the probability that God will
make them obedient.
"God's way to produce obedience in sinners is to require
it, and make them feel their obligation to render it, until excuses
and evasions are cut off, until every mouth is stopped;
and then, when obligation presses hard, and distress at the
violation of immediate duty rises high, when the sinner can
not obey, and can not live disobedient under such a pressure
of obligation and motive, then, when the means press
with all their power on the conscience and heart, God makes
"To give other directions than those of immediate spiritual
obedience is to take away from the sinner, and out of
the hands of the Spirit, the means of grace.
" If you reply that many have been saved under such
preaching, I answer God is a sovereign, and saves by this
same truth, in spite of much mingled with it that is calculated
to hinder. But if he required the exact and whole
truth on this point, I verily believe that not a soul would
have been saved in that way.
"Besides, instruction may be right in itself, and wrong as
it is apprehended by the sinner, or wrong in itself, and
yet truth as it is understood. For example, your orthodox education, true in itself, may, through the effect of a depraved
heart, have produced erroneous impressions, to the
cutting off too much the motives to attend to the means of grace; and in this state, that which in itself is not true, and
would be pernicious to a mind less indoctrinated, may, as it
hits your mind, be about the real truth, and be of use.
"Which mode of exhibition is, on the whole, most evangelical
and most successful, is as manifest from facts as facts
can make manifest. Look at the revivals which are filling
our land with salvation ; they do not prevail in England.
In this country they are confined almost exclusively to the
New England manner of exhibiting the truth. Mr. Newton
himself said, in a letter to a New England divine, ' I know
not how it is, but we are obliged to be content with catching
now and then a fish with a hook, while you in New England,
like the Apostles of old, drag to shore your seines
full.' (This was written in 1822 when Hopkinsian and Belamite New Light Calvinism had been prevalent in America for over 40 years, largely responsible for the Prebyterian Camp meeting approach in which ministers demanded immediate repentance and submission to God and saw DRAMATIC movements of the Holy Spirit (John Newton was commenting on evangelism before 1807, the year he died). Within 10 years of this letter, Scottish Common Sense Realism coming out of Princeton Theological Seminary would shift American New Light Calvinism to a less supernatural expectant, more gradual acceptance of Biblical truth approach with seekers.)
"This is the difference which God makes between telling
sinners to pray and wait, and telling them, in God's name,
to repent and believe.
"And now, dear child, if your composure should be the
result of release from the pressure of obligation to do your
duty immediately, and the restlessness consequent upon seeing
that you do nothing, it is a fatal composure.
"If your comparative calm results from the hope that you
shall be saved, while the importunity to obedience is relaxed,
it is only the ease derived from a spirit of procrastination,
and is fatal in its tendency.
"Finally, the extremes to be guarded against are
"1. A cold, sullen despondency, which prevents feeling
and paralyzes effort. Nothing can be worse than this.
"2. Complacency in our own sensibilities and efforts, as
good or acceptable to God ; or any such confidence in their
effect to move Him as relieves the conscience and the heart
from the full, painful pressure of obligation and depravity,
and dependence on sovereign grace.
"3. If, in any view or on any ground, our sensibilities
and exertions operate as a quieting substitute for spiritual
obedience, their tendency is perverted, and their effect is pernicious. But the diligent use of means, from a sense of
duty, with a deep interest in the subject, conscious of our
constant deficiency and constant obligation to do better, with daily attempts to give the heart to God and to come
to Christ, with many tears and supplications for aid, is as
near the truth, in feeling and practice, as the sinner ever gets, till God in mercy bids him live.
" On the whole, I think I perceive evidence in your letter
that God, by His providence and Spirit, has advanced His
work in your mind. Oh that your next might inform me that you can pray to Jesus, not merely because he hears
and pities, but also because he is altogether lovely."
||Beecher is saying he believes the Holy Spirit has been moving on Catherine and he hopes that her next letter will reveal she not only prays because it is her duty and because she knows intellectually that Jesus hears her prayer, but because her heart has been supernaturally changed and she KNOWS Him as lovely.
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