(The following paragraphs were taken from Govan's Gerhard Tersteegen: Life and Selections)
Tersteegen did at not have a certain way of working, nor was he dogmatic. He handled his audiences according to their special needs: "It is unnecessary and often injurious when the soul seeks to know so precisely the different degrees of spiritual life."
"He must not seek to lead others according to any particular plan, even as God does not guide every soul in the same manner. For instance, many at the commencement enter upon a course of severe legality; others into deep repentance of distress on account of past sins; and others, again, are drawn by loving kindness and tender mercy. Some attain to view of their depravity, etc., at the beginning; others, afterwards. He, therefore, that will minister unto others, must follow God, and observe him, and act as a nurturing maid that follows a child, who only turns it away when it is running into danger. But it is our own exercise in prayer and self-denial which ought to give us a true insight into the ways of God. Solitude, prayer, and self-denial—oh, how necessary are they to every soul at this period! In these we ought ourselves to live, and when necessary write, and give occasion to others to exercise them.
"A minister ought likewise to endeavor to inspire the soul with a good confidence towards God in Christ, yet so as never to lose sight of self-denial, in order that the individual may detach the heart, voluntarily and from love to God, from everything else, and fix it alone upon him. He that walks disorderly must be admonished; yet we must not prescribe too many laws of self-denial, but leave grace to counteract particular faults, and chiefly insist upon the complete surrender of the heart. We ought to know how to give way to the weak, and yet keep the end in view, in order that by making a little circuit they may be brought imperceptibly near to it. God grant unto those, who have at present to converse with others in spiritual things, a rich measure of His Spirit! Oh, who is sufficient for it?
Speaking of religious awakenings, Tersteegen writes: "It is not without the Divine permission, direction, and cooperation, that an awakening rumor arises, first in one country, and people, and then in another… It will be felt for a while, and excites many to that which is good. This does not, however, take place without the intermixture of much that is human, sectarian, and imperfect, amongst the greater part both of the instruments and of those that are awake; yet still, long-suffering love descends and blesses the well-meant though imperfect work. In short the net is cast into the sea, and a multitude are taken. After some time, it gradually subsides and appears to diminish. Many who, devoid of a thorough change, or only pressed in, as it were, turn back again to the world. Those who are sincere perceive more and more clearly the imperfection of their former works. The net is torn asunder, and each one goes his way. Is it not the intention of Wisdom, by this, to afford more liberty to the upright to excite them to a more profound attention, and to allure them deeper into themselves, that thus they may hear, in the center of their souls, it's soothing voice, which could not be so well listened to during the previous commotion?
"It is thus for that Divine Wisdom orders and separates everything with precision, both generally and particularly, in due time. That which previously served to awaken and edify, and was relished, afterwards frequently will not produce its former effect. Even the ability and inclination are often wonderfully withdrawn; for the principles of grace, sinking deeper, no longer manifest themselves in the region of the senses, but in the silent center and sanctuary of the soul, where they seek room.
"The Divine hand makes use even of the evil that is in us, in more ways than one, to make us better. Self-love, which in its way makes us fear hell and heaven, is that which generally excites men to listen to converting grace; and the Spirit of God employs, throughout the Bible, such inducements as these, because fallen man is incapable and unsusceptible of any other. And not only so, but I well remember to have read, —what you may now find in Berniere's "hidden life,"— that we ought not to desire perfection because it is such an exalted state, but because it is the will of God that we should attain to it, etc. It is now nearly thirty years since I read this, in French, in the writings of the departed saint, and through it received a kind of sentence of death to my self-love, which was hit in the most susceptible part by this expression. But I thank God that I did not meet with or understand it sooner, because I required another winter to bring me thither. And very much has been since discovered of this evil, which for a while seemed good, until the leprosy had spread and insinuated itself into everything, from head to foot, both inwardly and outwardly, and I found myself obliged to submit myself, helpless and without advice, solely to the decision and the hand of the Divine High Priest (Lev. 13.)."
To a group of people who intoned a blessed experience of being rescued from the fearful pit it hurts them to set their feet on the rock:
"Oh, what an unspeakable mercy of God it is, when we not only feel within us the vocation of grace, but also cordially give place to it —when we are impressively convinced of our miserable and fallen state by nature— when we sincerely feel the burden of our sins, and are thus driven, by inward distress and grief, to Jesus— when we perceive, in a lively manner, the great necessity of a change, a universal and thorough change— and when, at length, we take a humble and sincere resolution it irrevocably to offer ourselves, with body and soul, to the Lord Jesus and His service, to follow Him in the narrow path of self-denial and the cross, determined also willingly to bear the hatred and contempt of the world and the enmity of the devil on account of it! Happy moment when such a feeling of determination arises in the soul! Inestimable grace, which is more to be esteemed that all the deceitful riches and pleasures of the world!
"But here keep firm footing, my dearly beloved, who have experienced the happy hour in which you have sincerely given your word to Jesus.
"When an awakening takes place anywhere, persons are easily carried along with the stream; the novelty of the thing touches the senses, and the individual also feels affected —nay, the grace of God gladly avails itself of such opportunities to get the soul into the Gospel net; but now let everyone pay attention that it be not a fire of stubble which burns within him, but a flame of the Lord, which is not easily again extinguished. The first resolution is soon taken; but after the primary effervescence has a little subsided, the individual is put to tests, in which foresight, courage, and Divine grace are necessary.
'When he comes again amongst worldly minded people, who have already heard that he intends to become religious, or more serious than he was before --- oh, what astonishment is expressed! What apparently faithful cautions! What seemingly reasonable arguments and sophistry assault the weak mind! If he then gives only a little heed to the serpent, and revolves the matter over in himself, with his carnal reason, he is immediately weakened and overcome. It afterwards seems to him very probable that it is as these faults friends say —that there is no need of making such a noise about it, nor of injuring ourselves with others — that running hither and thither it is a little avail — that it often occasions more distraction than edification — that we can quietly serve God without identifying ourselves so much with the hated people — that there is also much strange fire and dissimulation amongst them, that they are not also holy as they outwardly seem to be — that it is not altogether possible to live in such a manner, etc. Oh, beware, beware, ye that love your souls, of thus conferring with flesh and blood, and refusing Him who speaks quite other things to you by His word and by the teaching of His grace in your hearts, but continue in that which you've heard and known from the beginning!
"How many receive the word of the Gospel with joy, who afterwards let their courage fail, when they see their enemies, and feel that not only hearing and speaking belong to godliness, but also doing and denying — who regard as beautiful the Gospel Pearl, Jesus and His blessings, but stop short or turn away when they learn that they must sell all in order to attain it. Oh my dear friends, stand firm, and do not let your courage sink! the Lord is with us! a soul, a Jesus, an eternity, certainly is worthy of some little labor.
"How many let their courage fail when they see that Jesus distributes not only bread and wine, but crosses also. As long as the first sensible emotion lasts, the individual is zealous and would even go to death with Jesus. But if the Lord, in His wise dispensations, withdraws the milk of sensible consolation and sweetness, and lets the soul continue for a while in barrenness and darkness, that He may try the fidelity of her love and establish her the more firmly in self-knowledge and humility, that man is then ready to despond and complain, or even to seek comfort elsewhere. Oh my brethren, do not sink, do not faint! Be strong, and wait for the Lord! For no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it ever occurred to any unenlightened human heart, what God has prepared for those that wait for Him.
"If you will not be deceived astray from the path of life, it is necessary to cleave in faith unto Him who has called us. He has inwardly come, and met us in our hearts, with His dear and gracious vocation, by reproof, by impressions, excitement, by light and love and life --- everyone according to his state and nature; to this we must cleave in all simplicity, if we are desirous of continuing firm and making advancement in grace.
"For we must not fall into the foolish idea, that we can re-enter Paradise, as it were, by a single leap. By no means. The waving the sword of the cherub --- I mean the word of God, which is quick and powerful --- (Hebrews 4) has much to hew and cut off, which can never enter into the kingdom of God; this is not accomplished in one day, nor even, generally speaking, in one year. Therefore a continual growth and progress certainly belong to Christians, and the degrees of grace are very different in those that are called. A Christian that retains his previous habits and infirmities, and remains in the same state from one year to another, has great cause to reflect maturely upon his state whether he be not perhaps a tree without life, or a branch which abideth not in the vine. For this is the very reason why so little growth in sanctification is perceptible in awakened souls in the present day. The individual does not abide in Christ, in the manner above mentioned, or accustom himself sufficiently to the true prayer of the heart, as to believe that God is inwardly near him, in his heart — to cleave unto Him in a childlike manner — to possess, in a meek and quiet spirit, His affectionate converse and intercourse — to wait for His gracious operation and attraction, attend to it, and give place to it — to adhere to Him most cordially, and, as a child from its mother's breast, receive grace for grace. This ought to be our daily work, yea, our chief employment; but because it is neglected, the individual does not properly attain to the power of the New Covenant, in which God writes His laws in the heart, nor to an experimental acquaintance with God, His riches, and His truth.
"Oh my dearest friends! What are all of our virtues and all our piety, unless fellowship with Jesus lies at the bottom of it? It is all only a form without power, a shadow without substance. All our faults and falls proceed from our not abiding with Christ within --- nay, we even commit many without perceiving them, because we are not in the light. We often think we are walking purely and sincerely, whilst, if we came nearer to our hearts, and to the Lord within them, we should soon perceive that we did not stand complete before the Lord. Innumerable selfish motives, and the whole inward mystery of wickedness, continues concealed from the eyes of many until death, to their great dismay at that hour, only because they did not seek to lead a retired life in the presence of God. Nay, the most precious and most essential operations and communications of God in our hearts, are not experienced, or the most Divine truths vitally known, because we do not sufficiently continuous there, where alone they can be known and enjoyed. Oh how much is this to be lamented, seeing that such great and precious promises are given us in Christ, that even during this life we may be partakers of the Divine nature, by the inward acquaintance with Him who has called us to this glory! (2 Peter 1)
"Therefore, my fellow-called, if we are desirous of being thoroughly redeemed and sanctified, of living peacefully and dying happily, we must become inhabitants of our own hearts, and fellow inmates with God. Jesus has opened it to us at this new and living way in his blood, so that eternal love, with its attractions and influences, can now approach very near to us, and we can draw near unto God in our hearts, with childlike confidence, without reference to our misery and unworthiness. Let us then draw near (Hebrews 10:22), and freely use this valuable privilege. Let us accustom ourselves, the whole day long, and even whilst in business, to the Lord's presence, and seek in simple faith to make ourselves known and intimate with Him in our hearts; but we must by no means regard as superfluous, a frequent seclusion in sacred abstraction, in order to this sweet and prayerful exercise of retiring to God in our hearts. We shall then more and more essentially experience how the Lord will meet us with the tender attractions of His love, seeing that He unceasingly waits and knocks at the door of our hearts; and we shall experience, that it is His delight to dwell with the children of men --- 'Come and see' (John 1:39).
"Prove by grace, in all things, that which is the best; and do not spend the short time and the noble powers of grace in unnecessary things of a secondary nature. Be not so tenacious of your money, as of your time, and the grace entrusted to you. Let us go directly to the mark; it will soon be evening with us. One thing is needful, which is, that we die to ourselves and every creature, and live unto God, in spirit and in truth. It is this that both Scripture and grace in the heart demand of us; and it is in this alone we can find health and peace, both living and dying. With this we have enough to exercise, to suffer, and to experience; he that has attained to it may do what he pleases, if he has any time to spare or desire for pleasure.
"Avoid all unnecessary intercourse with the men of this world, lest time be stolen from you, and lest you your souls be polluted and carried away. The most dangerous kind are those who make great pretensions to reason; particularly those who are Christians only in name and appearance, and who do not act directly and sincerely according to their previous calling; for such have, as it were, truly studied every specious pretense by which they may render void the strict, simple, and inward life in Christ, and seduce unstable minds.
From these extracts, it is manifest that Tersteegen regarded conversion on the ground of the atonement as the starting point for a holy life. Crude theories of saving faith had no place in his teachings. It is clear, too, from many passages, that he attached only the smallest weight to sensible emotions and delights in religious matters: when God gives such, let us rejoice in them, but we must speedily get beyond regarding our feelings as the criterion of our spiritual condition. He could even carry this principle to the length of finding no difficulty in the question of assurance. Spiritual manifestation, indeed, he would by no means discount; but the main point is to "take the oath of eternal allegiance to the dear Captain of our salvation?" And count Him faithful howsoever He deals with us. "Walking in this way, we may always rest satisfied whatever the Lord does with us, whether He lets us feel and clearly experience much or little in this life. Eternity is long enough for enjoyment. Let us only begin below, and follow Him, whithersoever He leads. All will be well in the end."
"The assurance of the forgiveness of sins," he writes to one who put some questions to him, "is commonly taken for believing in Jesus; but in my opinion, this is incorrect. That which I have more fitly called the drawing of the Father, I might also with propriety call believing in Jesus; for the Father draws us to the Son. But faith in Christ has its gradations. In the beginning it is a coming to Jesus (John 6:35); that is, with hunger and desire. It is afterwards a receiving of Jesus (John 1:12), which cannot take place unless the sincere will of the soul let's go at once the world, sin, and self. In advancing, faith is an abiding in Jesus (John 15), namely, with a fervent inclination, otherwise called retiring within or cleaving to him (1Corinthians 6:17); and thus, by abiding and walking in Jesus, we are increasingly rooted and grounded in Him (Colossians 2:7), which, however, is not accomplished without afflictions and trials. Faith is, finally, a dwelling of Christ in the soul, and of the soul in Christ (Ephesians 3:17; John 17:23), and a becoming one with him. In referring to and considering the passages quoted, you may perhaps attain more light on the subject.
"On the whole, you perceive, I do not merely regard faith as an act of the understanding, by which we represent and imagine to ourselves that Christ has made a sufficient atonement for us, but chiefly as an act of the will, and of the heart, in which our love, desire, and confidence are turned away from ourselves and all created things, and directed to the grace of Jesus, in order that by Him we may be delivered from guilt and the dominion of sin. Confidence, it is true, is a material ingredient of faith; but, as soon as there is a hungering after grace, or a coming to Jesus, it is accompanied with confidence, although frequently much concealed by sin and fear. For no one ever comes to a physician that places no confidence in him whatever. If we only continue to come, confidence will manifest itself in due time. The light shines out of darkness and confidence is generated by anxieties and despondency.
"That which is otherwise called an inward attraction is, properly speaking, faith in Jesus, accompanied by a fervent and tender confidence. This inward attraction manifests itself to some souls like a flash of lightning; but, alas! it is seldom that proper room is made for it, or that it is duly attended to; otherwise the soul would be speedily delivered by it from bondage and disquietude, and strengthened to entire resignation."
The following paragraphs he addressed to the awakening inhabitants of the town of Meurs:
"Your wish to make me acquainted with your names, and the desire of your hearts to belong entirely to the Lord, has occasioned me heavenly joy and delight, and has moved me to lay both your names and your intention at the feet of our dearest High Priest, that He may bless and confirm the same. Oh that all your names were indelibly engraved in the Book of Life, and that at that great day they may be pronounced among those blessed names which Jesus shall then confess before His Father and before His holy angels!
"This inestimable favor and honor is not only earnestly desired for you by me, it is kindly intended for and graciously offered by Jesus Himself to the most wretched amongst you. Could we, who are deserving of the curse, behold even only through a fissure the opened heart of Jesus, what should we not see! What should we not feel!
"As long as we lived in a state of carnal security, without God and without Jesus, we stood on the brink of perdition's yawning gulf, and were unconscious of it. Jesus loved us, sought us, and we knew it not. It is He that hath taken us by the hand, that hath drawn us away from that dreadful abyss, could have directed our minds to Himself, and, instead of the well-deserved pit of hell, has opened unto us the unfathomable abyss of His loving heart, in order that we may fly to the safe and blessed city of refuge from all sin in danger, and become eternally happy in Him. Oh, my dear brothers! taste and see how gracious the Lord is, and how unspeakably blessed we may be in communion with Him, even during the present state of existence! Seek nowhere else of alleviation for your burdened hearts. All besides is deception. You will not find it out of Christ, but only be adding to your burden by seeking it elsewhere.
"He that abhors all his sins, has a right to believe that he has the forgiveness of all his sins and cleansing from them in the blood of Christ; but he that wishes to receive Christ, and yet secretly retain both the world and sin, his faith is vain. He that gives all for all, shall certainly obtain the pearl of great price; but how can a person receive anything whose hands are already full? Do not console yourselves on unsubstantial grounds, till Jesus consoles you in His due time, lest you be injured by it.
"Be willing to occupy the lowest place, till the Lord Himself says, "Friend, come up hither" (Luke 14). Only wait at Jesus' feet, ye troubled hearts --- no one waits in vain; for whilst we wait, the precious corn growth up. We are not so happy in the world, when all things go well with us, as we are with Jesus in troublous times. Every tear and every sigh will bring, in due time, abundant fruit. Learn to keep a Lent with Jesus. Be not disquieted, dejected, or fainthearted, when sufferings, trials, and temptations arise. We ought rather to fortify our hearts with confidence when these things befall us, even as they happened to our great Forerunner. For as He was led by the Spirit into the desert, that we might not think we were alone in it. Oh, let us put on the suffering mind of Christ! Let us not lose courage, when the tempting serpent approaches us in angel's guise and says, "This or that will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." He that overcometh, he that endures to the end, shall inherit all things.
"Place no confidence whatever in your own hearts, your courage, your strength, your light, your virtues, or your faithfulness; but, like myself, be as little children who perish without a mother's care. All that is our own is worthless, and everything else is free grace, for which we must every moment wait and receive. But we can never trust too much to our gracious Redeemer; to Him, the most miserable may approach on the footing of free grace, cordially seek his favor and friendship, pray to him without ceasing, filially really depend upon him, and then boldly venture all upon Him. Oh, He is faithful, and will perform that in us and through us which neither we nor any other mortal would be able to a accomplish of himself!
"Now then, my dear brethren, if you have really given your hearts and you're sincere consent to this dearest Friend of sinners --- as you assure me you have --- bow with humble thankfulness before Him who has commended His love to you and who alone can establish you. If the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner that repents, my poor heart shall rejoice over your happy lot, and cordially extend to you the hand of fraternal affection. Examine yourselves narrowly, lest any anathema be cherished in your hearts, that you may cleave with tireless sincerity to Jesus, and become daily more complete in Him. If we continue in Him, we have boldness, we have fellowship one with another, we shall rejoice over each other, and shall shortly meet each other before the throne of the Lamb, with endless joy, to glorify Him who has ransomed us from the earth with His blood. Amen. So let it be!"
"1. Let us love, and esteem, and use the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, according to the state and circumstances of our souls. It is undeniably the best and most divine book in the world, and a revelation and expression of the will of God to us; and it manifests an extremely reprehensible ingratitude and arrogance to neglect and despise it. We must not however, forget that the power and illumination of the Spirit of God are indispensably necessary to understand it aright, and to walk according to it.
"2. Let us constantly set before us the pure and holy word and self-denying life of Jesus Christ for our imitation. "He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also to walk even has He walked." We ought not to look much about us, nor pay attention to others, except so far as they are in Christ and follow His steps.
"3. Let us never forget the doctrine of Jesus Christ, especially respecting the denial of self and of all created things, as the primary and most necessary characteristic of His true disciples. He has said, "the way is narrow, and the gate is straight." Let us therefore see that we reject everything internally or externally, that would represent it to our corrupt and carnal natures as a broad way.
"4. Let us watch and pray — watch over our untrustworthy hearts, thoughts, and affections, that we may not suffer them to wander thoughtlessly and freely to the creature, but continue near to God, yea, cleave unto Him with our affections, desires, and inclinations. Let us also watch over our senses, our ears, eyes, mouth, and kind. They are the portholes into which sin, confusion, and of a thousand temptations will enter, if we open them too frequently, needlessly, and imprudently. Finally, let us watch over our corrupt natures, that we may never give way to them nor follow their will.
"5. Let us also, at the same time, pray, and that more with the heart and the mouth, especially for the Spirit of Jesus, the He may rule and work in us. It is He who alone can lead us into all truth, and will do so; without Him, it would be impossible for us to continue, or perform anything good.
"6. Above all things, let us love one another, and exercise filial intercourse with God in our hearts, and a reverential walk in His presence; because this simple exercise, if we are faithful and steadfast in it, introduces us, through the Divine cooperation, into that true fellowship with God in spirit, on which all religion and our eternal salvation depends.
“7 Let us seek, in serenity of mind, to be very faithful and attentive to the inward teachings and admonitions of the Spirit of grace. Although we may be delivered from the law, and no longer so conscious of its threatenings, reproofs, and the terror it excites in the conscience, yet we an never be disunited from the law of the life-giving Spirit of Jesus, whose gentle and internal attractive influences and directions we ought the better to attend to and follow, and with so much the more ease and fidelity.
“8. Let us avoid all unnecessary converse and hurtful association with the world and frivolous people, and likewise with those who, under the name of piety, live in false liberty, according to the impulse of the flesh, sense, and reason; because, by intimate intercourse with them, the minds of those that are unsettled may easily and often unconsciously imbibe something of their disposition, and suffer from it. Those who are truly the children of God, on the other hand, and their society and conversation, ought to be so much the more dear and precious to us.
“9. Let us especially beware, in all our actions, words, and gestures, both in our outward and inward walk, of all subtle hypocrisy, dissimulation, and a self-assumed department, which is so displeasing to God; but seek, on the contrary, to do all things in simplicity, sincerity, and cordiality, without reference to man, but solely in order to please God.
“10. Let us ever keep watch over our natural reason, in which the Old Serpent so gladly lurks, and endeavors under the most plausible pretexts to allure us from simplicity of heart, into all kinds of useless speculations and injurious disputes; so that the better part is often forgotten and neglected in consequence of it, and the man falls imperceptibly into all kinds of errors and mistakes, as painful experience daily confirms.
“Finally. Ye know that the Son of God was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no unrighteousness. He that abideth in Him sinneth not. He that sinneth hath neither seen nor known Him. Little children, let no man deceive you. He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous, etc. (1 John 3:5,7).
Taken from H. E. Govan’s Gerhard Tersteegen: Life and Selections (London: Nisbet & Co, 1898), pp 72-98.
Quotations of Gerhard Tersteegen