Dordrecht, 231 March 1877

My dear Theo,
Want to make sure you receive a letter on your trip. What a good day we spent together in Amsterdam,2 I stood there watching the train you left in as long as it was still in sight. We’re such old friends, aren’t we? How long we’ve walked together, starting in the black fields with the young green wheat at Zundert, where we heard the lark at this time of year with Pa.
In the morning3 I went with Uncle Cor to see Uncle Stricker, where we had a long talk about you-know-what.4 In the evening at half past six Uncle Cor brought me to the station, it was a beautiful evening and in everything there was so much that seemed to speak, the weather was still and there was a bit of mist in the streets, as is usually the case in London. Uncle had toothache that morning, but fortunately it didn’t last, we went to the flower market5 too, it’s good to love flowers and pine branches and ivy and hedges of hawthorn, we have seen them from the very beginning. Wrote home about how we had spent our time in Amsterdam and what we talked about.6 Arriving here I found a letter from home at Rijken’s. Pa was unable to preach last Sunday and the Rev. Kam stood in for him7 – I know that his heart is burning within him8 that something might happen so that I could give myself over not only almost but altogether9 to following Him, Pa always hoped I would do so,10 oh! may it come to pass, and may there be a blessing on it.  1v:2
The print that you gave me of ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away’11 and the portrait of the Rev. Heldring12 are already hanging in my room, oh, I’m so glad to have them, they give me hope. Am writing to you offhand about my plans; my idea becomes clear and firm by doing so. For the time being I’m thinking of the words ‘it is my portion to keep Thy word’,13 have such a desire to familiarize myself with the treasure of biblical scripture, to know all those old stories thoroughly and lovingly, especially to learn what we know about Christ. In our family, which is indeed a Christian family in the full sense of the word, there has always been a minister of the gospel as far back as one can see, from generation to generation.14 Why should that voice not be heard in this and in following generations? Why should a member of that family not now feel himself called to that office and think, with some reason, that he can and must declare himself and seek the means to achieve that goal? It is my prayer and deepest desire that the spirit of my Father and Grandfather may rest upon me, and that it may be given me to be a Christian and a Christian labourer,15 that my life may resemble that of them whom I name – the more, the better – for behold, that old wine is good and I desire not the new.16 Their God shall be my God, and their people my people,17 that this may be my portion: to know Christ in His full worth18 and to be constrained by  1v:3 His love.19 What that Love is, is so beautifully said in the words ‘as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing’,20 and in 1 Cor. XIII, it beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things, it never faileth.21 It is in my heart today, those words of the pilgrims going to Emmaus when evening was come and the sun had gone down, ‘But they constrained Him, saying, Abide with us’.22
You like it too, that ‘sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing’, keep it in mind, because they are good words and a good cloak in the storm of life, keep it in mind at this time, now that you’ve experienced so much lately. And be careful, because even though it’s no small thing that you’ve experienced, yet, if I see rightly, there is something greater in store, and you too will remember the words of the Lord:23 I have loved thee with an everlasting Love,24 I will comfort you as one whom his mother comforteth.25 I shall send you another Comforter, even the Spirit of truth,26 I will make a new covenant with you,27 be separate, and touch not the unclean thing,28 I will be your God, and you shall be My people,29 I will be a Father unto you, and you shall be My sons and daughters.30 Hate sin and the places where it resides, and come not nigh,31 it attracts so easily with a false appearance of being something great, and does what the devil did to Christ when he showed Him all the kingdoms of the earth and their glory and said, ‘All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt kneel down and worship me’.32 There is something better than the glory of worldly things:33 it is the feeling we get when our heart burns  1r:4 within us upon hearing His word,34 it is faith in God, the Love of Christ, faith in immortality, in a life after this life. Hold fast to what you have.35 Theo, old boy, brother whom I love, I have such a great longing for that thing which you know of, but how shall I ever get it? How I wish that I, like Pa, had already done a lot of the difficult work of a Christian labourer and minister of the gospel and sower of the word.36 You see, Pa can count his services and Bible readings and visits to the sick and the poor and his written sermons by the thousands, and still he doesn’t look back but goes on doing good.37 Lift up your eyes38 for me and pray that it may be given to me, just as I now do for you, may He give you the desires of thine heart,39 He who knows us better than we know ourselves and who is able to do above all that we ask or think,40 for His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts,41 as high as the Heaven is above the earth.42 And may you continue to think of Christ as a Comforter and God as a refuge.43
I wish you well on your trip; write soon, and accept a handshake in thought, adieu, and believe me ever

Your loving brother

May Pa get better soon, try to be in Etten at Easter, things will be all fine once more when we’re together again.
With many things in the past, also with what you’ve experienced, it could be that ‘thou shalt find it after many days’.44


Br. 1990: 109 | CL: 89
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Dordrecht, Friday, 23 March 1877

1. It is possible that Van Gogh wrote ‘22’ instead of ‘23’ (see also Date).
2. Van Gogh had visited Amsterdam on 18-19 March 1877.
3. This must have been Monday, 19 March, the morning after Theo’s visit.
4. Van Gogh had meanwhile decided that he wanted to be a clergyman, and possibilities were being investigated with regard to the preparation necessary for the study of theology.
5. The flower market on Singel between Koningsplein and Muntplein.
a. Meaning: ‘dennetakken’ (branches of pine).
6. Cf. Mr van Gogh’s remark in a letter to Theo: ‘Vincent told us that you had a good day in Amsterdam last Sunday’; and again later in the letter: ‘Vincent wrote with pleasure about your being together’, and went on immediately to say: ‘he still seems to be thinking about becoming a clergyman. But will he manage it? Is he capable of 7 years of continuous study of languages etc.? I’d rather that he simply wanted to remain in his present position. It does worry us’ (FR b2517, 24 March 1877).
7. Mr van Gogh was ill, and the doctor had advised him not to preach (FR b2514). The Rev. Jan Gerrit Kam, for whom Mr van Gogh acted as substitute in Leur, stood in for Mr van Gogh in Etten. From the family correspondence it appears that he did this often.
10. Evidently Mr van Gogh had expected his eldest son to carry on the tradition of having a clergyman in the family.
11. Matt. 24:35, Mark 13:31 and Luke 21:33. This text could have been inscribed on the print Theo had sent; cf. the biblical passages on the Scheffer prints (letter 85, n. 7). It is also possible, however, that Van Gogh wrote the text on the print himself, as he was in the habit of doing (cf., for instance, letter 112, l. 35).
12. The Rev. Ottho Gerhard Heldring, a well-known preacher, founded several charitable institutions and also published devotional works. At least eight portraits of him are known, including a painting by August Allebé of 1877 and an engraving after this canvas made by Smeeton-Tilly, which appeared in the Nederlandsche Almanak of 1877 (The Hague, Iconographic Bureau).
14. Biblical, but especially frequent in the Old Testament.
15. Owing to the brochure De christen-werkman als zendeling (The Christian workman as a missionary) (1847) by the above-mentioned O.G. Heldring, the ‘Christian Workman’ had become a well-known concept. The Missionary Idea had arisen from the ambition to give the poor in the Dutch East Indies a better future. The Groningen theologians (to whose numbers Mr van Gogh belonged) were active in the Nederlands Zendelinggenootschap (Dutch Missionary Society). See Hommo Reenders, Alternatieve zending. Ottho Gerhard Heldring (1804-1876) en de verbreiding van het christendom in Nederlands-Indië. Dissertation Kampen. Kampen 1991, esp. pp. 103 ff. In the sermon Van Gogh had delivered in England (see letter 96), he had translated this concept literally as ‘Christian workman’.
16. Possibly an allusion to Matt. 9:17.
33. Cf. 1 John 2:16-17. Van Gogh always writes ‘heerlijkheid’ (glory) where John wrote ‘begeerlijkheid’ (lust).
37. Cf. the saying ‘Doe wel en zie niet om’ (Do well and don’t look back); cf. Luke 9:62.