Vincent van Gogh on the Christian life

I was intrigued to learn that there was a period in van Gogh’s life where he considered becoming a preacher. Here’s an except from one of his sermons (delivered in 1876). His text was Psalm 119:19: “I am a stranger on the earth, hide not thy commandments from me.”

It is an old belief and it is a good belief, that our life is a pilgrim’s progress – that we are strangers on the earth, but that though this be so, yet we are not alone for our Father is with us. We are pilgrims, our life is a long walk or journey from earth to Heaven. […] Our life is a pilgrim’s progress. I once saw a very beautiful picture: it was a landscape at evening. In the distance on the right-hand side a row of hills appeared blue in the evening mist. Above those hills the splendor of the sunset, the grey clouds with their linings of silver and gold and purple. The landscape is a plain or heath covered with grass and its yellow leaves, for it was in autumn. Through the landscape a road leads to a high mountain far, far away, on the top of that mountain is a city wherein the setting sun casts a glory. On the road walks a pilgrim, staff in hand. He has been walking for a good long while already and he is very tired. And now he meets a woman, or figure in black, that makes one think of St. Paul’s word: “As being sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” That Angel of God has been placed there to encourage the pilgrims and to answer their questions and the pilgrim asks her: “Does the road go uphill then all the way?” And the answer is: “Yes to the very end.” And he asks again: “And will the journey take all day long?” And the answer is: “From morn till night, my friend.” And the pilgrim goes on sorrowful yet always rejoicing – sorrowful because it is so far off and the road so long. Hopeful as he looks up to the eternal city far away, resplendent in the evening glow and he thinks of two old sayings that he heard long ago – the one is:

“Much strife must be striven / Much suffering must be suffered / Much prayer must be prayed / And then the end will be peace.”

And the other is

“The water comes up to the lips / But higher comes it not.”

And he says: “I shall be more and more tired but also nearer and nearer to Thee.” Has not man a strife on earth? But there is a consolation from God in this life.

The sermon in full is available here.

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