This letter was originally written by Scottish Presbyterian minister John Bonar in 1740. It was adapted and abridged by R. Cameron-Smith in 1996. I have made a few other adaptations for our circumstances.
You have begun well; may you continue to go forward in your Christian path. You will no doubt meet with the temptations of Satan, of your own corrupt nature, and of the world. But he that is with you is greater than all your enemies. Beware of grieving the Holy Spirit by backsliding. Those who have no root may “endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mk.4:17). It is the Lord alone who can graciously establish your heart and make you strong to stand. I shall offer my advice, which by God’s blessing may be helpful to you:
- Study to know the wickedness of your own heart. This is one of the great differences between a Christian and a hypocrite: the hypocrite does not desire to know his own sins. Cry to God: “Search me, O God, and know my heart!” (Ps. 139:23).
- Often look back over your past years. Remember how many sins you have committed in the past, and pray that God would give you grace to hate these sins and to turn from them forever.
- Pray daily to your heavenly Father for mercy and forgiveness. You have heard of Christ and his perfect righteousness offered to you in the gospel. Fix your eyes on Christ as your complete and only Saviour (Heb. 12:2).
- Reflect regularly on what your Christian profession may one day cost you. It is easy to believe in a time of peace and quietness. Seek to resolve through the Lord’s grace to follow Christ as his disciple no matter what happens to you.
- Read and seek to know the Holy Scriptures daily. It is from the Bible that you will draw wisdom, knowledge, and encouragement.
- Study to be sound in the faith. Read good books. Study the Reformed confessions. Avoid the company of those who spread unsound doctrines. Someone once said: “Hear the best ministers, read the best books, and keep the best company” – this is excellent advice.
- Wait upon God regularly in prayer. He is a faithful friend and is always ready to help you in the time of need. “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). Learn to lift up your heart with a short prayer to God in every situation.
- Remember that the eye of the world is upon you, looking for some failing or wrong in your life. But above all remember that the eye of God is upon you at all times. It is to God that you must one day give account for all your actions. Therefore, endeavour to please him in whatever you do: “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9).
- Whatever vocation you have in this world, be diligent and faithful in all your duties. Beware of idleness, which is the mother of all vices. Prayerfully seek to glorify God in whatever you do (1 Cor. 10:31).