Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss- By George Prentiss

An ordinary life of faith.  Not very exciting sounding, is it? Ordinary...what is good about the ordinary? What purpose can be found in it? The most important purpose. God's. Mrs. Prentiss wrote books, that was exceptional. But for the most part, her life was that of a Christian housewife's: cooking, taking care of the house, children, helping people in need. She did have several of her children die in childhood/infancy, but a lot of people did in her day. She always seems to be visiting a deathbed or potential deathbed, but her age was different from ours, people were dying all of the time. Nowadays, going to a funeral is the exception, not the rule.

Ironically, a life of faith in ordinary circumstances is just as, if not more, extraordinary as a person who exercised faith in extraordinary circumstances. In a letter to a friend, Mrs. Prentiss wrote: "...As to domestic cares, you know Mrs. Stowe has written a beautiful little tract on this subject -- 'Earthly Care a Heavenly Discipline.' God never places us in any position in which we can not grow. We may fancy that He does. We may fear we are so impeded by fretting, petty cares that we are gaining nothing; but when we are not sending any branches upward, we may be sending roots downward. Perhaps in the time of our humiliation, when everything seems a failure, we are making the best kind of progress. God delights to try our faith by the conditions in which He places us. A plant set in the shade shows where its heart is by turning towards the sun, even when unable to reach it. We have so much to distract us in this world that we do not realize how truly and deeply, if not always warmly and consciously, we love Christ. But I believe that this love is the strongest principle in every regenerate soul. It may slumber for a time, it may falter, it may freeze nearly to death; but sooner or later it will declare itself as the ruling passion. You should regard all your discontent with yourself as negative devotion, for that it really is.......I know all about these little domestic foxes that spoil the vines, and sympathize with you in yours. But if some other trial would serve God's purposes, He would substitute it."

Her husband, George, put this biography together very well. It is very interesting, with excerpts from her diary and letters forming a major part. Even her thoughts on everyday occurrences are insightful and encouraging, here is an example: "This evening I passed unavoidably through Miss ----'s room. She was reading Byron as usual and looked so wretched and restless, that I could not help yielding to a loving impulse and putting my hand on hers and asking why she was so sad. She told me. It was just what I supposed. She is trying to be happy, and can not find out how......I alluded to her religious history and present hopes. She said she did not think continued acts of faith in Christ necessary; she had believed on Him once, and now He would save her whatever she did; and she was not going to torment herself trying to live so very holy a life, since, after all, she should get to heaven just as well through Him as if she had been particularly good (as she termed it). I don't know whether a good or a bad spirit moved me at that minute, but I forgot that I was a mere child in religious knowledge, and talked about my doctrine and made it a very beautiful one to my mind, though I don't think she thought it so. Oh, for what would I give up the happiness of praying for a holy heart -- of striving, struggling for it! Yes, it is indeed true that we are saved simply, only, apart from our own goodness, through the love of Christ. But who can believe himself thus chosen of God-- who can think of and hold communion with Infinite Holiness, and not long for the Divine image in his own soul? It is a mystery to me-- these strange doctrines. Is not the fruit of love aspiration after the holy? Is not the act of the new-born soul, when it passes from death unto life, that of desire for assimilation to and oneness with Him who is its all in all? How can love and faith be one act and then cease? I dare not believe -- I would not for a universe believe -- that my sense of safety in the love of Christ is not to be just the sense that shall bind me in grateful self-renunciation wholly to His service. Let be sure of final rest in heaven -- sure that at this moment I am really God's own adopted child; and I believe my prayers, my repentings, my weariness of sin, would be just what they now are; nay, more deep, more abundant. Oh, it is because I believe -- fully believe that I shall be saved through Christ -- that I want to be like Him here upon earth. It is because I do not fear final misery that I shrink from sin and defilement here." And also this excerpt from a letter: "I was somewhat encouraged by reading in my father's memoir, and in reflecting that he passed through far greater spiritual conflicts than will probably ever be mine....I see now that it is not always best for us to have the light of God's countenance. Do not spend your time and strength in asking for me that blessing, but this -- that I may be transformed into the image of Christ in His own time, in His own way."

I found this biography comforting, interesting and thought provoking. We look at exhibitions of faith in all kinds of circumstances, all of them are witnesses to it being worth it. Even the ones who exhibited biblical faith in common circumstances. Knowing the sovereignty of God, we trust that He places us in exactly the right place to exercise faith, as Oswald Chambers wrote: "Notice God's unutterable waste of saints, according to the judgment of the world. God plants His saints in the most useless places. We say - God intends me to be here because I am so useful. Jesus never estimated His life along the line of the greatest use. God puts His saints where they will glorify Him, and we are no judges at all of where that is."

And here, I'll end with one more quote by Mrs. Prentiss, again, from a letter to friend:

"Temptations and conflict are inseparable from the Christian life; no strange thing has happened to you. Let me comfort you with the assurance that you will be taught more and more by God's Spirit how to resist; and that true strength and holy manhood will spring up from this painful soil. Try to take heart; there is more than one foot-print on the sands of time to prove that 'some forlorn and shipwrecked brother' has traversed them before you, and come off conqueror through the Beloved."

You may read this book for free online:

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  1. Ah, I want to read this book now!
    It's obvious that what she's written here aren't just cliches or what "they say". This is the result of a great deal of thought after a great deal of learning Scripture. Reading her quotes, my mind parallels some of the phrases with Bible verses.
    Aye, it's always so encouraging to find an example of one who obviously understands the necessity of submission to God's will.

  2. Yes, it was very encouraging, in an odd way. :) You'll still need to be cautious while reading it(as with any biography), as I don't think she fully understood the Biblical concept of Christians being saints not sinners. Amongst a few other things. But this is where even Hebrews 11 is so encouraging...look at the people God sets up as examples of faith to follow! Gideon, David, Jephthah, Samson...etc. So like with Elizabeth Prentiss, Martin Luther, Arthur Pink, Amy Carmichael..etc. who had all kinds of flaws, but had the same focus: God's will. We don't do everything other Christians/believers have done, but we do follow them insomuch as they followed Christ.