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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Joseph Plimsoll   3 December 1867

Exmouth, Devon. | 8 Bicton Place

Decr. 3rd. 1867

Dear Sir

“For to-day the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel”

1 Samuel XI. 13.1

This salvation, the result of the merit of Him who is above the law, is the provision of sovereign, undeserved, unmerited grace. Salvation was not deserved by us, nor won by us; but done for us, and is offered to us from the throne every day that we hear the gospel preached or taught. There was no obligation on God’s part thus to interpose; there was no right on our part thus to obtain it. The Lawgiver, above the law, interposed in his sovereignty; why he passed by the fallen fiends that are in hell, and lighted, in his love and mercy, upon us, is one of those deep facts that ought to make us very thankful, very humble, and to feel more profoundly than we have ever felt before, what a magnificent salvation is that which is by grace, and not of works, lest any man should boast. Grace originated it all, and love without parallel or precedent executed it, and wisdom incrutable devised it. Christ Jesus, without constraint from above or claim below, interposed and died for us: and therefore as salvation by grace, and to the praise of grace, is the happy fact below, salvation to our God and to the Lamb is the never-ceasing, joyful song of the redeemed above. This salvation, thus free and sovereign, thus based on the strongest, surest foundations, is offered to all. Whatever it may be in its application to any, it is freely, bona fide, offered to every human being that hears it. It is not true that it is to be preached only to the elect; it is to be preached to sinners as such, without admitting the element of elect or non-elect, predestinated or unpredestinated; it is unto all and upon all that will take it; it recognizes no distinctions; it overflows all the sand-ridges of social division; it rises to, and reaches, and gives pardon to the greatest sin; (even the sin of infidelity—nay of atheism itself—and that in its most flagrant, rampant, revolting, God-incensing forms—as exhibited in what is termed the xdevelopment theory—of which, Sir, you are the chief exponent in this country—if not the author. Think of that Mr Darwin—to your soul’s present and everlasting comfort and joy!—and for so much grace displayed in your behalf, cast yourself at the feet of your great deliverer, saviour, and benefactor—exclaiming—“Oh! the depths of the grace, and mercy, and love of God in Christ Jesus! in pardoning such a wretch as I am, who have so outraged reason, and thy divine attributes—and not only pardoning, but receiving me into thy favour and thy redeemed family—not even mentioning my enormities of transgression—but blotting them all out of the book of thy remembrance;2 calling on all the holy angels to rejoice at my restoration—saying—“for this my son was dead, but is alive again, was lost and is found.”— therefore bring forth the best robe and put it on him; let the fatted calf be killed; let there be a sumptuous banquet on the occasion of his return to his home, and his father’s heart; and great rejoicing amongst all the inmates of my celestial palace, in commemoration of his repentance, towards me and faith in my beloved Son”.3 Will you not then, dear Sir, be moved to say, mentally, if not orally, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul my life, my all”.4

But to return from this long parenthetical digression, to which I have been impelled by my deep solicitude for your soul’s salvation—);5 it follows, and pursues, and lays hold on the oldest and the worst of sinners; so that if any man perish, it is not because God will not save him, it is not because salvation cannot reach and overwhelm his sins, as the ocean would bury them in its depths; but solely and wholly, because one goes to his farm, another to his merchandise, another to his home, and anywhere and everywhere; giving to things that perish an importance that he denies to the salvation of his immortal soul. Your right to hear the gospel—oh! wondrous grace—is just your own self-inflicted ruin. If you be not sinners there is no salvation for you; if you be sinners—the oldest, the chiefest, the wickedest, the worst (even the notorious exponents and champions of atheism and infidelity, in all its various phases, and malignant manifestations and results—subtle and disguised, or open and avowed—such as are so rife—so rampant in the present day—this day, predicted in the Book of the Revelations, when “the “doctrines of devils”6—will be extensively preached.)7 there is for you this very day pardon for the greatest sin, cancelling of the longest life of transgression; and God, instead of being unwilling to receive you, the instant he sees you in the far distant horizon he gives notice to choirs of cherubim and seraphim, and they will join in the glorious anthem that ever sounds and is ever sweet: “Let us rejoice; this my son was lost, and is found; was dead, and is now alive”.8 Our very disfranchisement from heaven is our franchise to Christ; that which keeps us out of heaven is that which makes us welcome to the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. I wish we could look upon the gospel less as law; I wish you could look upon all these truths as some dead things that lie far remote from us, or transcendantly above us. It is now—and what a thought!— it is now true that Jesus died and suffered, and God loved and planned, and prophets wrote, and psalmists sung, and evangelists have written, and apostles have preached, as truly for thee, my brother, as if there never had been, is not now, and will not be, another individual but thyself in the world. This salvation is received by faith alone. It is by grace—that is, it is undeserved; it is offered to all; it is received by faith alone. Do not think of faith as of some abstraction, some grand thing for theologians to talk about, but not meant for the ordinary level of mankind. Faith in Christ is so far identical with faith in other things. On Saturday night—if you are a merchant—you deposit all the stores of the week in some banking house. Now, notwithstanding an occasional breach of trust here and there, you have confidence in your banker that he will safely keep what you put in his hands. That is an act of faith. The only difference here is that what you deposit in the hands of the Lord of glory never can meet with disaster; for you can say when you have done it, “I know in whom I have believed; and that he is able to keep what I have committed to him against that day”. When you take a five-pound or a ten-pound Bank of England note, you give your goods for it, and you get in exchange that bank note. What is that? Your faith in those copper-plate words, and in that water-mark, and in that piece of paper, and in the institution from which it comes. If you had not confidence in it, of course you would not accept it. What is faith in Christ? Just taking God at his word; believing what he says is true, and acting upon it; that is to say, carrying it into personal and practical action. Faith is confidence in God’s word, and in Christ our sacrifice. Oh! what a tremendous thought at a judgment-seat, if God should tell us, “What! you could not believe! Did you put faith in a Bank of England note? Did you put faith in Coutts— in Drummond,9 and did you never dare to put faith in me? you could not take my word! What an awful! It is true faith is the gift of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But this does not modify what I have said. We injure the gospel by mixing it up with incomprehensible abstractions. The simplest thing in the world is salvation; the simplest thing in the world is the way of being saved; and what you are called upon to do is to take God at his word. If when offered this Bank of England note for your goods, instead of taking it for what it is worth, you were to begin to try what sort of paper it was made of, whether the ink was indelible, and to copy the pictures on it, and to admire the exquisite mechanism, if I may so call it, of the bank-note, you would waste time and show want of confidence. I want you less to criticise this and that in the Bible, and oftener to open it, and take God at his word. When he says, “Jesus Christ is come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief”10—do not ask, “Is it for me?” ask rather, Why not for me? Your qualification is sin; your fitness is sin; and if you be a sinner, the chiefest of sinners, why, you are just the very person that Jesus Christ came into the world to save. Faith is in all its simplicity flying to the city of refuge, washing, that you may be clean. It is neither doing, nor buying, nor waiting, nor hesitating; it is a feast made for you, you have only to sit down and eat it; it is a wedding garment spun, woven for you, you have only to put it on. It is an ark sailing on the sea, and you are floating on a shattered wreck: you have only to get in, and be wafted to the haven of everlasting rest and peace. This is the gospel. I should only spoil the simplicity of this magnificent thing, if I were to add more; except to pray that the spirit of God may so apply it to your heart that you may be able to say “This day the Lord hath wrought salvation in my heart”,11 to his glory, and my present and eternal good.

The above, which I have been at considerable pains to transcribe for your perusal—is an extract from the writings of an eminent Clergyman of the Church of Scotland.12 That it may—through the grace of God—the love of Christ—and the omnipotent and resistless might of God the Holy Ghost, be made the means of your being turned from darkness to light, from spiritual death to spiritual life—and translated from the Kingdom of Satan into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son—from obnoxiousness to everlasting destruction and woe, to a certainty of resurrection to endless life, glory, and bliss—is the prayer | of dear Sir—Yours faithfully. | J. Plimsoll M.D

x“The development theory”13—it may well be called indeed! This is a very appropriate and expressive designation for it—inasmuch as it involves a full development of the truth—“the wisdom of the wise is foolishness”14—and especially of that declaration of the prophet Jeremiah—“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked”.15— “the world by wisdom knew not God”16—as the Apostle Paul affirms—is likewise herein exemplified—atheism being the logical result of the development theory.


The letter text, apart from the sections in parentheses (see nn. 5 and 7, below), the final paragraph and the postscript, is a transcription of a sermon by an unidentified preacher.
Ps. 51:1–3.
The writer alludes to the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32).
The quotation is from the hymn ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’ by Isaac Watts (Church hymnal, no. 247).
The section in parentheses is apparently Plimsoll’s interpolation into the quoted sermon. See n. 1, above.
1 Tim. 4:1.
See n. 5, above.
Luke 15.
The writer refers to the banking firms Coutts & Co. and Messrs Drummond.
See 1 Tim. 1:15.
See 1 Sam. 11:13.
The author has not been further identified.
Development theory or hypothesis: the doctrine of evolution, applied especially to that form of the doctrine taught by Lamarck (OED). A contemporary reviewer had referred to Origin as the latest form of the development theory (see also Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Charles Lyell, 6 June [1860] and n. 10); George Henry Lewes, Herbert Spencer, and Hewett Cottrell Watson were amongst CD’s contemporaries who had written about development theory (Lewes 1853, Spencer 1858–74, 1: 389–95, and Watson 1845).
‘For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent’ (1 Cor. 1:19).
Jer. 17:9.
‘For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe’ (1 Cor. 1:21).


Church hymnal. 5th edition. Melody Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2000.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Lewes, George Henry. 1853. The development hypothesis of the ‘Vestiges’. Leader (1853): 784–5, 812–14, 832–4, 883–4.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Spencer, Herbert. 1858–74. Essays: scientific, political, and speculative. 3 vols. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts; Williams & Norgate.

Watson, Hewett Cottrell. 1845. On the theory of "progressive development," applied in explanation of the origin and transmutation of species. Phytologist 2: 108–13, 140–7, 161–8, 225–8.


A sermon.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Plimsoll
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 174: 53
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5704,” accessed on 7 June 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15