Vallandigham Letter


Vallandigham wrote to his brother on February 8, 1851:

For years I have stood like the publican of old ‘afar off, but alas! unlike him, too rarely smiting my breast, or desiring mercy upon me a sinner. Religion has always been much in my thoughts; the Bible often my study, sometimes, but how rarely, my delight; its doctrines and its precepts are to me familiar as household words; attendance upon the sanctuary has been my habit, and I have even remembered the Sabbath-day, but oh how seldom have I kept it holy! The prayers of my childhood have lingered like the odor of sweet perfume in my memory; my mother’s yearnings and my father’s precepts have passed ever before me in the silent watches of the night. The old homestead and the ancient family-altar, and the rooms hallowed all over by prayer, and the grave of him who, while living, compassed about as he was by poverty and affliction, yet served and honored God with the constancy and purity and firmness of a martyr and a saint; and the calm, mild eyes and countenance of her, full of meekness and faith and piety, who yet lives to bless and pray for me, have fenced me all around as with a wall of fire, and guarded me even when I knew and felt it not.
Yet in all this have I not seen God—visibly, palpably, seen and felt him as my God and Redeemer. Religion has ever been to me a thing belonging to the future, a something some day to be sought after, certainly to be sought after, but—tomorrow. That morrow never came: there was no such thing in all God’s creation to come: and I knew and realized it not these many years, fool that I was. Tomorrow was ever one day in advance. Yesterday, this day was the morrow. It came, but it was no longer the morrow, but to day, with all its terribleness, and it was all that belonged to me. And yet hardened I my heart; and having eyes, saw not, and claiming intelligence, realized not so plain a truth. But I bless God that for some time past, unconsciously at first, almost without my consent till it was too late to resist, I have been drawn, I know not how—not by power nor by might, else my proud spirit had rebelled, but by easy and insensible approaches—I dare not say by grace—to think more and more of the great concern, the future of the immortal part of my nature. Not in the earthquake and the storm and the rending of the rocks, but in the midst of health, and mercies and blessings more in number than the hairs of my head, a still, small voice has whispered day and night, at home and abroad, in solitude and amid the cares and anxieties of business, the hour is come, the accepted time, the convenient.
For the first time in my life I have listened, unwittingly in the beginning, cheerfully, pleasurably now, to these whisperings. What it is that has moved me I know not: I have never felt before as I now do feel; and for the first time in four-and-thirty years of a life time of carelessness and sin, I am resolved by God’s grace and assistance, not my own—I am nothing, less than nothing, and vanity—to make religion an immediate personal concern from this day so long as I do live. In all this I know I can of myself do nothing save to ask, seek, and knock, according to the Saviour’s command and promise. I have no self-righteousness to urge, no merits of my own, none, none. These in the expressive language of the Holy Scriptures are but ‘rags, filthy rags.’ And if he was thrust out who came to the feast not in rags, but only without the ‘wedding-garment,’ how should I hope to gain admittance in such wretched attire? I know that I am a sinner, and that the thoughts and intents of my heart (I feel it even now while I write) are evil in all things, and that continually. But I shall ask, seek, and knock with a firm but very humble reliance on the merits of the Saviour, His atonement and intercession, and not doubting the many promises which He has everywhere given in all His word. I would not be over-confident. As yet I can find assurance of nothing about me except only the desire to look into these things, and to have religion brought home to me personally, and that without delay. In the meantime I would by God’s grace and assistance set a guard upon all my actions, my words, and that which is most difficult of all, my thoughts, the very lairs and coverts of sin. I would do all, speak all, think all for the glory of God as my first and chiefest motive. And praying to Him humbly but fervently as prayer ever came from human lips, first for pardon of past sins and then for grace and assistance in the future, I do greatly desire and long to henceforward live ‘soberly, righteously, and godly while in this present world, using the things thereof as not abusing them, remembering always that the fashion thereof passeth away,’ and to make it the great rule of my life to be diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. And may God write this as with a pen of iron upon the tablets of my heart, and grant me grace to remember and conform to it all the days of my appointed time, and when heart and flesh fail me, provide then for me a mansion in that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.