I heard the following letter referenced on the radio this morning, and was impressed by it. The circumstances of the letter are this. John Todd was born in Rutland, Vermont, October 9, 1800. His parents afterward moved to Killingworth, Connecticut. When he was only six years old his father died. His mother, suffering from mental illness, was unable to care for the seven children. John went to live in North Killingworth with his father's youngest sister, Matilda Hamilton. When his aunt became seriously ill and expected to die, she wrote her nephew John -- now a Congregationalist minister -- about death. Below is the reply that John Todd sent his aunt Matilda Hamilton.
MY DEAR AUNT,--I am sorry to hear that you are feeble, perhaps I should say sick, and even that there is fear on your part that you are not to be better in this world. I am afraid that I shall make but a poor comforter in these circumstances, and yet I know there are waters enough in the wells of salvation, if I only knew how to draw them up. You send me word that you would be glad to see me, and, if possible, I shall come; but I am so situated by sicknesses that it may not be in my power. You also tell me that your life looks barren and dreary, and that you tremble at the coming of death. I am not going to try to cheer you by telling what you have done for the Master during your past life. But I want you to recall once circumstance, for the sake of illustrating what I want to say.
You remember that it is now thirty-five years since my father died, and left me, a little boy six years old, without a mother, without a home, and with nobody to care for me. It was then that you sent me word that you would take me and give me a home, and be as a mother to me. Everybody said, 'It's very kind in her to do that.' But I was too young to realize anything of that nature. It seemed to me a perfectly natural thing that you should do so. I wondered what kind of a house you lived in, and whether you had chickens and hens. At length the day was set when I was to go to you, ten miles off. What a long journey it seemed to me! And I well remember how disappointed I was that, instead of coming for me yourself, you sent old Caesar, the great, fat, black man to bring me to you. How my heart sunk within me when he came, and I was told that I was to ride on the horse behind him, sitting on the blanket! But he told me that 'old Kate was very gentle to little boys,' and that you said I might bring Echo, my little dog, with me. So we set out, just before night. Caesar took my bundle of clothing before him, and me behind him, and Echo ran beside us. But before long, before we got to your house, I began to feel tired. My legs ached, and I was tired of taking hold of Caesar. By-and-by the evening and the darkness came on, and I felt afraid; then we had a long piece of woods to go through. I had heard of bears and tigers and Indians, and did not know how many might be in the woods. Caesar, too, was so dark that I could not see him, and he jogged on without saying a word. He had no idea that I was afraid.
'Caesar, ain't we most there?' said I, in my terror.'Yes, when we have got through these woods we shall see the candle in the house.''Won't they be gone to bed? for it seemed to me it must be nearly morning.'Oh, no, they will be all ready to receive us.'
But I trembled, and the tears ran down my face, and I wondered why I could not have somebody with me besides black Caesar.
But at last, after winding and turning, and going uphill and downhill, a long, long way, as it seemed to me, we came out of the woods, and then the stars shone; and I was told which light was in your house. And when we got there you came out, and gently took me in your arms as Caesar handed me down; and you called me your 'poor little boy,' and you led me gently in; and there was a blazing, warm fire, the bright light, and the table spread, and the supper all waiting for me! And that was my home! My eyes now fill with tears as I think it over. How you soothed me, and warmed me, and put me to bed in the strange room, and heard me say my prayers, and staid with me till I was fast asleep.And now, my dear aunt, you see why I have recalled all this to your memory. Your heavenly Father will send for you--a dark messenger, it may be. And he will be your conductor, and carry you safely through the darkness of the way. He will not drop nor leave you, for he is a faithful servant. You need not feel afraid, for he knows the way, and will take you directly to your home. There the door will be open, and your dearest friend, the Lord Jesus Christ, will meet you and take you in, and the supper will be waiting, and the fires of love burning, and the light and glory of his presence all seen. What a welcome you will receive! And, perhaps, the memory of what you did for me will come back upon you, bringing waves of pure joy. At any rate, don't fear the dark passage, nor the dark messenger. Receive it all as the little child did, and you will find the home. My prayers will be for you till you are out of sight, and then I will look forward to meeting you again.Ever, ever yours, most gratefully,JOHN TODD.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord Is the death of His saints”
Note: I have seen several versions of "this letter" online, but the above is transcribed as recorded in John Todd: The Story of His Life Told Mainly by Himself (Edited by John E. Todd, New York, NY: Harper & Brothers: 1876 pp. 35-37). Some versions give evidence of simply being told from memory by someone else, and some may have been attempts to edit out certain comments and downsize the letter for effect. I have chosen to post what I believe to be the original endorsed by Todd himself.