... for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?—Canticles 1.7.
FATHER TO HIS CHILDREN, &c.
[ By Robert Traill, Sr. ]
TrueCovenanter.com Editor's Introduction.
The letter which is presented below is commonly found at the end of the collected Works of Robert Traill. It is not, however, a letter written by the author of those writings, but rather by his father. The letter is very worthy a Christian father, showing how greatly he cherished the salvation of his children, and what diligence he took to use the best means in inconvenient circumstances, to convey to them the message of the Grace of God, and to exhort them to keep a right course in the times of persecution and backsliding which were then carrying so many out of the right way. We have, therefore, an example which every Christian father and grandfather would do well to examine, for help and encouragement in leaving a good testimony to his posterity: the most precious inheritance he is really able to provide for those he must leave behind when the Lord calls him home. Christian mothers and grandmothers also, will find what will be useful to them for the same purpose. We know what value this was in the case of Timothy. (2 Tim. 1.5.)
The reader may notice that the letter below is considerably longer than that which was published in the 1810 edition reprinted in more recent years by Banner of Truth Trust and Old Paths Gospel Press. About five and a half pages, plus a postscript, found in the 1775 edition, were omitted in the edition of 1810. These include exhortations to frequent prayer, singing the Psalms privately, the care of their mother and one another, identifying with the persecuted party of faithful Christians, preserving a healthy honour for the martyrs and witnesses for King Jesus, and avoiding false teachers. Why these paragraphs were omitted from the later edition is uncertain to the editor.
Lastly, the reader is encouraged to make more use of this letter than that which is for his own good. If any godly men or women are of your acquaintance, whose years now are coming to their end, and whose children are not yet all brought into the fold of our Lord Jesus Christ, then impart to them a copy of the letter below, or such selections as seem most useful. And then, pray that the Lord will bless it as an example to them, that they may be better encouraged to spend their last strength in such travail for their children as may issue in a birth that will secure their safe relation to our Everlasting Father, who takes up his children, even when their fathers and mothers must forsake them. [Psalm 27.10.]
[Rotterdam, March 1665.]
Dear Children, whom the Lord my God has graciously given me,
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
I HAVE often, in this time of my exile, had many earnest wishes for your eternal salvation, and some weak prayers to the hearer of prayer, for all of you, that ye may be saved from the wrath to come, and may, in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ, be owned of him, set on his right hand, and taken in to dwell with him for ever; that ye be of the blessed number of these of whom he will be admired, and in whom he shall be glorified, in that day, when he shall come in flaming fire, to take vengeance on all them that know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Thess. 1.7-10; and that poor, wretched, unprofitable I may have to say in that day, Behold me, and the children thou hast given me, which were for a while for signs and wonders in the world, and now are for signs and wonders of thy rich mercy, and free undeserved grace. The Lord hath often put it into my heart, to write unto you all in one letter, that I may stir you up to the serious and frequent thoughts of that which is your greatest concernment, even your eternal salvation; that ye may make that your main task, to work out your salvation in fear and trembling [Phil. 2.12]; and, for that end, to give all diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall; but an entrance shall be administered unto you abundantly, into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, 2 Pet. 1.10,11. There are three things mainly that have made me thus to write unto you. 1st, Because this is a duty lies upon Christian parents. The Lord did shew unto Abraham, the father of the faithful, that he expected this at his hand, in reference to his relations, Gen. 17.19. For I know that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, &c. And the Spirit of God, in the New Testament, does much press this duty. 2dly, Because my obligations to Christ, and to his free grace, are so many, and so great, that, had I never so many children, I would think myself bound, to the utmost of my power, to consecrate them all to him: and to press upon them, by all that love could suggest unto me, that they would serve the Lord God of their father. 3dly, Because among the many other challenges I have now in my solitary hours, in this house of my pilgrimage, for neglect of duties in my days of peace, this is one, that I did not improve my time aright, when the candle of the Lord did shine upon my tabernacle, and ye were as olive plants about my table. [Psalm 128.3.] Alas! I did not press upon you, as I ought and might, the serious thoughts of eternity, and of your soul’s salvation, and therefore I am the more obliged now to do it, at this distance; and who knows but it may sink deeper into your hearts, that it comes thus by a letter from an aged, banished father? I remember that I was often moved, in prayer with that family over which the Lord had set me, to pray for preparation against a time of scattering, though I did not then think that it should have been such, and so far off, before death; but now it is come, and that which death will make is following: the Lord give us the sanctified use of the one, and serious preparation for the other. 4thly, Because I am under the bond of a promise and vow to the Most High God, taken on, before him, and unto him, at your baptism, that I should endeavour to train you up for himself, that ye might learn to know, fear, and serve him. I remember, I presented every one of you to that sacrament, except one who was presented, in my absence, by a faithful and worthy minister, who is now at his rest, and who doubtless did pray for the blessing and fruit of that ordinance unto the child he did present; and, I hope, his prayer was heard; and that the Lord, who has chosen for her a good husband, and made her the mother of children, shall own her as one of the daughters of Zion, who shall be found in the register of these of whom it is written, They were born there, by the new and better birth. [Psalm 87.5.] Yea, the Lord has been graciously pleased to let me live so long with you, till I have entered all of you (except the youngest, who, I hope, shall not want his part of the covenant blessing, unto that other sacrament of the Lord’s supper, that so you might therein, by your own proper act and deed, make an open and avowed resignation of yourselves to the Lord, as your God, and your father’s God, and declare before the world, that in him alone ye have salvation, and that ye will live and die to him; and so might perform what was promised for you by your parents in that first sacrament, when you could not restipulate by yourselves, but behoved to do it by another, till ye should come to years of knowledge, that ye might then give your own actual and formal consent; which, I hope, ye have done, as often as ye have been partakers of that other sacrament. 5thly, Because the Lord has made me, again and again, in this my Patmos, to cry unto him, more than ever before, for grace and glory to myself, and to my seed; and to lay out before him that sweet and large promise, Deut. 30.6. And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live; yea, now and then to act faith, and to pray upon it, and to win unto some hopes that it shall be made good for all of you. Sure I am, there is room enough for all of you in heaven, were ye more than ye are: there is mercy and grace enough in Jesus Christ, to bring you thither; and nothing can keep you out, but unwillingness to enter in by him, who is the way, the truth, and the life, and who makes it one of his greatest complaints against perishing sinners, that they will not come unto him, that they may have life. And the 6th and last thing, that hath moved me to scribble these lines, is, That the few and evil days of my pilgrimage are fast wearing to an end, the shadows of the evening are stretched out, and my sun is near the setting, neither know I, if I shall see you any more in a present world: and therefore, while the Lord lets me yet dwell in this frail tabernacle, I would desire to mind you of these things which concern your eternal peace; and that ye may remember these things, when I shall be no more within time, either to speak or write to you. Now all that I shall recommend to you, I shall sum up into these few heads: First, and chiefly, There are some things I would press upon you in reference to your seeking the Lord, and serving him in your generations, that ye may be saved in the day of the Lord. Secondly, Some things in reference to your natural relations. Thirdly, Some things in reference to the times wherein the Lord has cast your lot to live.
I. For the first, Make it your daily task, to seek the Lord and his face, and to serve him with all your heart, as your God, and your father’s God: and O that you and I could exalt him; and that he would prepare for himself an habitation in my heart, and in the heart of every one of you! Read the scriptures frequently and seriously; meditate upon them, and pray upon them, 1. For grace to obey the precepts there set down, for you. 2. For hearts to tremble at the threatenings that sound there, that ye may escape the dint of them, and may, by your flying into Christ, be kept from the fearful execution of them, which will certainly pass upon all the children of disobedience. 3. Pray for faith to believe all the great and precious promises that are breathed out there, that ye may by these be made partakers of the divine Nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust, 2 Pet. 1.4. and that having these promises, ye may by them (both as motives to persuade, and as means to help and enable you) purify yourselves from all filthiness, both of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, 2 Cor. 7.1, and that ye may be heirs of these exceeding great and precious promises, through Jesus Christ, in whom they are all yea and amen. 4. Pray for wisdom to look aright upon and consider the examples of the saints recorded in scripture, both in their failings and falls; that ye may be brought to ply your course circumspectly, and with fear, eschewing these; for they are set up as beacons, to warn these that sail through the same sea, to beware of the rocks on which they did strike, and suffered loss, though they were saved from drowning by the skill and care of their blessed Pilot, who brought them in at last, as ship-broken passengers, to their safe and quiet haven: and also in their virtues, and holy walking before the Lord, in their generations; that ye may in these be followers of them, who through faith and patience inherit the promises, Heb. 6.12, and that, being compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, ye may lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset you, and may run with patience the race that is set before you, Heb. 12.1. And as I do recommend unto you frequent and fervent prayer, so I would have you not to forget, or neglect praising, I mean, singing of psalms, even in your secret worship; but remember to sing with the spirit, and with the understanding also: this is one main part of our immediate worship, and shall continue through all eternity, when all mediate worship shall cease. Ye may perform this sweet part of worship, even in secret, without letting your voice be heard by others, who possibly may be in places or rooms near you. And then when you have been at the throne, and have presented yourselves and your supplications unto him who sits thereon, then look up, and expect your answer from the hearer of prayer, and through his merits and mediation, who has a censer, and much incense is given to him, that he may offer it with (or, as it may be read, that he may give or add to it) the prayers of all saints, Rev. 8.3. But, while ye wait for an answer, and look up, do not set a time to him; for sure he will make the vision to speak, and the promise, on which ye pray, to be fulfilled in due and best time; and therefore wait for it, even when ye think it tarrieth long; for ye have his word for it, that it shall come, and shall not tarry, Hab. 2.1-4. And tho’ ye cannot be always on your knees in prayer, neither is this required of you; yet know, there is a way to entertain communion and fellowship with God all the day long, and to give him the constant service of the affections of your hearts, and to be sending and darting up frequent ejaculations unto him, in whatever company you be, whatever ye be looking on and speaking of. We know how it was with honest Nehemiah, chapter 2.4, Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. This were to set the Lord always before your eyes; this were to walk with God, and to be in the fear of the Lord all the day long, [Psalm 16.8, Gen. 5.22, Prov. 23.17]; and so, when death should come, ye should but change your place, and not your best company.
II. That which I would recommend to you, in reference to your natural relations, is, 1. In reference to your mother: I charge you be kind to her, now when she is come to her old age; and be helpful and comfortable unto her, as the Lord shall enable. Probably she will live longer with you than I shall; and I pray the Lord that it may be so. She hath been a kind and dutiful wife unto me, and comfortable to me in the time of my sufferings; and the Lord will bless her, even for that. She has been a very tender and dutiful mother to all of you: in her womb were you conceived, and in pains did she bring you forth into the world, and nourished you on her breasts; and since that time to this, her care towards you has been very tender and great; and the Lord both craves and expects a kind requital. 2. In reference to yourselves, as brethren and sisters brought up in one family, tho’ now scattered. O love one another in the Lord, and fall not out by the way, [Gen. 45.24]; but be helpful one to another, especially as to your souls concern. Pray one for another, and, as occasion offers, one with another: and ye, who are elder, have a care to bestow a word of admonition upon the younger; especially forget not your younger brother; ye who are his elder brethren, give him warning to beware of the evils of the time wherein his lot is cast, and of the sinful city he lives in; but, above all, to beware of the evils of his own heart. Recommend unto him that scripture, (which I hope ye recommend to yourselves), Psalm 119.9, Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way? but by taking heed thereto according to thy word; Eccl. 12.1, Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth. He bears the name of his grandfather, who was no scholar, and yet a man well acquainted with God, and much exercised in the scriptures, and in prayer, and on Christ’s side, in the controversies of Zion, under the former Prelates: he would never countenance any of them, albeit he had natural relations to some of them: he did towards his end give testimony against the usurpation used by these men upon the congregation where he lived, and whereof he was an elder: and so after, and through manifold temptations and afflictions, he entered into the kingdom of God, and died in the assured hope of the blessed days of reformation, which we should see, and which we did see. But alas! our unthankfulness for these days, and our many provocations against the Lord, have brought a sad change. The Lord grant, that, as that young man bears his name, so he may learn to live and walk in the good old way wherein he walked, that he may find rest to his soul.
III. There are some things I would recommend to you, in reference to the present times into which your lot is cast to live. And, 1. Beg of the Lord wisdom to discern the times, and to know what Israel ought to do. 2. Keep yourselves from the evils of the times; for they are evil days, wherein even the elect are in danger of being deceived: Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but to reprove them rather, Eph. 5.11. And beware lest ye also be led away with the errors of the wicked, and so fall from your own stedfastness: but grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, 2 Pet. 3.17,18. Pray to be kept from the way of those who are turned aside from the good old way, wherein some time they walked; and wherein they promised to themselves, and avowed and professed before others, that they should find rest to their souls: yea, and some preached this before many witnesses; but now they seek their rest in other paths, which the Lord has cursed, and which he will yet again curse. Be not sharers with these men in their sins, that ye may not be partakers of their judgments; for their judgment sleepeth not, but is as fast hastening as they are ripening for it, and that is fast enough. 3. Labour to be marked among the mourners in Jerusalem, who sigh and cry for all the abominations that are done in the midst thereof, Ezek. 9.4. O beware of being reckoned in the number of those who eat and drink, and are not grieved for the afflictions of Joseph; or of those who make merry in their sensual delights, in a day and time when the Lord is calling to mourning and weeping, and fasting; against whom a woe is denounced, and whose iniquities shall not be purged away till they die. Amos 6.1, Woe to them that are at ease in Zion. And Isa. 22.12-14, And in that day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: and behold, joy and gladness, slaying of oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine; let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die. And it was revealed in mine ears by the Lord of hosts, surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you, till ye die, saith the Lord God of hosts. Mourn for the blood of the blessed martyrs, that has been shed in that great, but sinful city; and bless the Lord, who gave to those faithful and valiant witnesses to offer their blood so willingly, for sealing these sure truths, that are now opposed by a gainsaying generation; and for asserting the royal prerogative of Zion’s King, who will take no laws of dying kings, whose breath soon goes out, and in that hour all their thoughts perish with them. Let the two precious heads that are set on the Netherbow, but shall be seen in the great day, with crowns upon them; yea, their adversaries must see them amongst these whom the king will honour; let, I say, the heads of these faithful witnesses (who, being dead, yet speak) mind you, and stir you up to cry, as the souls under the altar do, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not avenge the blood of thy servants on them that dwell on the earth? Rev. 6.10. 4. I would recommend unto you, my two eldest sons, who were entering upon your trials for the preaching of the gospel, when the storm arose which razed presbyteries, (but their foundation cannot be razed, for it is built upon the rock of ages, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail;) let not this storm shake you, or make you quit your purpose. You were minting [striving] to fit yourselves for putting your hand to that plough, when the Lord should give you a call; and therefore look not back, but pursue your purpose; and, by the Lord’s grace, and his strength, be diligent in the use of all means, whereby ye may be fitted for that high and holy calling; and possibly the Lord of the vineyard shall call you, among others, to work in his vineyard in that poor land, when he shall have driven out these wild boars, which have laid it waste for a while. [Psalm 80.8-15.] The Lord knows, that as it would be a great part of my joy, to see all my children walking in the truth; so would it be some further degree of my joy, to see you two honoured of the Lord, to be preachers of the truth. I mean, faithful, and not time-serving preachers, entering by the door, and not climbing up some other way. The Lord can do it, and, if he see it fit for his own glory, he will do it; and on these terms allenarly [exclusively] do I, and should ye seek it.
Lastly, I would recommend to all of you, both sons and daughters, and that, in this backsliding time, when so many are turning back from Christ, and walking no more with him, ye would strengthen your resolution not to leave him; for to whom should ye go, in turning away from him, seeing he only has the words of eternal life? John 6.66-68. From that time many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then said Simon Peter unto him, Lord, to whom shall we go? for thou hast the words of eternal life. Say ye not, A confederacy to all those to whom this apostate generation say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid: but sanctify the Lord God of hosts in your hearts, and let him be your fear and your dread, Isa. 8.12,13. The Lord himself speaks in this to your hearts and mine, with a strong hand instructing us. Now, I conceive, that this would much conduce to help you to stedfastness in a backsliding time, often to make actual resignation of yourselves to the Lord: I mean, on your knees in prayer, humble and hearty prayer; to give up yourselves, souls and bodies, to him who is your Lord, Creator and Redeemer, who has bought you by a dear price, that ye should be his, and that ye should live to him, and not to yourselves. [2 Cor. 5.15.] This actual resigning yourselves to him, and explicit and formal covenanting with him, would please him well, would give the devil and your own corruptions a great dash, and would make you understand some scriptures more clearly and more comfortably; as Psalm 16.2, O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee. Psalm 27.8, When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek. Jer. 30.21,22. And their nobles shall be of themselves, and their governor shall proceed from the midst of them, and I will cause him to draw near, and he shall approach unto me: For who is this that engaged his heart to approach unto me, saith the Lord? and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. Zech. 13.9, They shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God. But of this worthy and stedfast Mr. William Guthrie has written well; which little great book I recommend to all of you. And now, my dear children, whose everlasting salvation my soul prays for, and desires to believe, and whose holy and Christian conversation in the way thither, I earnestly beg, meditate often on that scripture, Titus 2.11-14, For the grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men; teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and glorious appearing of the great God, and our Saviour, Jesus Christ: who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. And pray for grace to obey that great and excellent gospel lesson, that ye may assure your hearts before him, and that it may be well with you in the great day of the Lord. And shall I mention to you what worthy Mr Bolton said on his death-bed to his children? (I hope, the mentioning of it shall do you no harm, but good) I charge you, said he, O my children, not to meet me in the great day, in a Christless, graceless condition! I hope, every one of you will endeavour, and make it your main study and care, to be found in Christ in that day, not having your own righteousness, but that which is through faith in him. [Phil. 3.8,9.] The Lord himself grant that it may be so; and the Lord God, my God, and my father’s God, who has fed me, and provided for me all my life long until this day, and the great angel of the covenant, which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads, and lasses also. [as Gen. 48.15,16.] And so I recommend you to him, as your God all-sufficient, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified through faith that is in him. And now the very God of peace sanctify you wholly: and I pray God, that your whole spirit, soul and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he who calleth you, who also will do it. [Acts 20.32, 1 Thess. 5.23,24.] Children, pray for me, your aged father, who desires to live and die in the hope, that we shall, with joy, meet before the throne; and that ye take these lines, as some weak help to carry you thither. They are from,
Your loving and affectionate father,
P. S. I would desire, that ye would choose some convenient day when all of you may meet together and have this read amongst you with earnest prayer to God for his blessing upon it, and for mercy and grace to him who wrote it, and is now at such a distance from you; and then let every one of you have a copy of it, to keep beside you, as the best love-token I can send you. Grace, grace, rich and free grace be the portion of every one of you; and then are ye rich enough. Let me have an answer from you, subscribed by all your hands, that I may know how you accept of this counsel, and what your purpose is of hearkening unto it, and following it in the Lord’s strength; and I shall carefully keep it by me, and shall present it before the Lord, by prayer to him, who must work in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure, that he may give you to work out your salvation in fear and trembling. [Phil. 2.13.]